Moving from an underground quirk to the position of a serious roots contender was merely a matter of time for this good-natured eastern banjo player. Old Man Luedecke, first name Chris, is emerging, no longer a secret within these Canadian borders. He deserves it wholly, the near-last of the convincing Luddites, a man who left Toronto for the far north then Halifax and has argued wonderfully for all but dropping out of society in favour of happiness. His music is simple and honest, at its nucleus just a thinker and his five-string banjo walking along the road.
This time round, the production is slicker and more complicated thanks to Steve Dawson, but in no major way buries the essence of this talented, imaginative retro songwriter.
Hitting the wall in one song, Luedecke suggests he'll just go sleep in a hollowed-out log, reminiscent of the pre-Depression blues banjo player Roscoe Holcombe, old-timey music you should also seek out. Smithsonian Records has done a good job preserving Holcombe's legacy and Luedecke considers him a ghostly mentor.
Keeping to the wood theme, another moving song - a relatively moder '50s-style shuffle - uses damaged nature as a metaphor for love and death, asking what it's all for.
"I'm sad as a forest that's all been cut down," he sings with an echo as the vibrating organs come in.
It's a nice change of direction from banjo player to singer and makes me wish the Mavericks would get back together and play Sad as a Forest with a full orchestra. Sometimes hokey has a place.
That being said, a rather Steve Dawson-ified version of Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier suffers from its slickness. The American Revolutionary drinking song would have been more effective as a haunted, lonely banjo-vocals piece, the slide guitar elbowing in too much here. I understand the urge to layer and jam and hang out with interesting musicians, but lots of what makes Luedecke so compelling is the sense of isolation, the feeling of being outside modern influence and Nashville tastes. So blankets of drums, bass, fiddle and so on don't actually add as much as they hope to. And sometimes interfere.
Songs like Just Like a River preserve a more pure sound without distraction and frankly, are more representative of the banjo player heard live.
Luedecke's playful rhymes jump right into your heart: "Fear and doubt are our greatest rivals; action and joy come carry us along. Hard work and hope trump poor luck and trouble - this world is it, we will make it our home.
"We've been to the bottom of fear and self-loathing and in all of that darkness, love came along.
"Though we still know my way down to that basement, leave it behind when we sing these songs."
Wake Up Hill is another one that keeps it simple, and the way banjo is aged is effective. There's something almost Japanese about it, while the chorus on Big Group Breakfast, the next song, is warm, friendly and excellent.
Overall, it's an interesting experiment, and, coupled with Luedecke's existing work, form an impressive body - with just a hint of Frankenstein.
- Fish Griwkowski