Halifax Chronicle Herald
I can’t remember the last time I attended a concert outside the Christmas season that came with a singalong sheet.
But darned if Old Man Luedecke didn’t go to the trouble of printing up a combination of secular hymnal and personal thank-you note for attendees of his headlining debut at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium in Halifax on Friday night.
"The last time I walked out on this stage, there was a big symphony here and I had 13 minutes of doubt and alienation running through my mind," Chris Luedecke told the audience of about 800.
But there was no sign of trepidation in his voice or his playing Friday. It didn’t hurt that he had the rare advantage of a posse to accompany him — guitarist Steve Dawson, Joel Hunt on fiddle and mandolin and Hot Toddy Trio bassist Tom Easley — but the banjo-wielding songster from Chester has a way of turning crowds into instant fan clubs with apparent ease no matter where he plays.
The Cohn show came on the heels of the release of Luedecke’s Dawson-produced fourth album, My Hands Are on Fire and Other Love Songs. In the interest of letting people absorb the new songs and join in on the old favourites, he split the evening in half, focusing at first on the new record.
Perhaps the sound of his latest is a shade more ornate than his previous release, the Juno-winning Proof of Love, but the focus is still on unabashed romanticism and smile-inducing metaphor.
Moving at a loping pace, Machu Picchu was full of the strange memories and images that get stamped on the mind during intense bursts of love, including one of carrots mouldering in the crisper, "a subject I felt was under-represented in popular music," he explained to listeners.
The song also offered an opportunity for Dawson to get out his acoustic Weissenborn lap guitar, providing accents that sounded rustic and exotic all at once, while on the sensual My Love Comes Stepping Up the Stairs, Dawson used the slide to scoop notes into shape while Hunt added a dusky fiddle flavour with dark sweeps of his bow.
It probably wasn’t as shocking as Bob Dylan going electric at Newport, but Luedecke got to crack wise when he exchanged his banjo for an acoustic guitar, admitting it was a novelty instrument and hoping the audience wouldn’t think playing a six-string was "some sort of gimmick."
"It’s time people accepted this guitar for what it is and got past its obvious stereotypes and limitations," Luedecke deadpanned, turning the tables on years of raised eyebrows at his preferred choice of instrument.
Nothing screamed novelty about the song, though. Woe Betide the Doer of the Deed is the most political piece Luedecke has ever put his honest twang to — an open letter to those in power who use their position to further their own ends and ignore those who make the sacrifices on their behalf.
To drive the point home, Luedecke’s biting words were underlined by Dawson’s sharp slide notes, stinging like the audio equivalent of paper cuts.
"I worked here once in the box office . . . and then I quit my job," Luedecke recalled to a chorus of cheers and clapping, setting up the song from his Hinterland CD that many first came to know him by.
I Quit My Job, one of the most uplifting tributes to personal liberty in recent memory, kicked off the singalong portion with gusto as he vigorously stomped his left foot and urged us all to "take your heart’s candle and relight it."
He also got everyone to do their high-pitched best on Yodelady ("Yodelady of my dreams"), the product of a childhood spent listening to his parents’ LP of Franzl Lang, King of the Alpine Yodellers. The song doesn’t require that kind of epiglottal gymnastics, but it sure does make you feel good to try that high, lonesome sound.
As good as the ensemble playing was — Foreign Tongue with Easley’s bowed bass and the chiming drive of Willie P. Bennett’s Caney Fork River being particular highlights — Luedecke’s songs don’t suffer a whit when he’s playing solo.
Through the age-old process of playing a constant stream of shows to all kinds of crowds, he has become an entertainer of the first order, without having to apply any spit and polish.
Great songs with honest humour, sung in a distinctive voice. What more could you want from a musician?