Chris Luedecke assumed the mantle of “Old Man” as something of a lark. “I put the name on my first gig poster and it stuck,” he claims, and given the music on My Hands Are On Fire and other Love Songs, it seems a pretty apt description. Luedecke himself might be a young man, but his music seems part of an unbroken chain, that oral tradition that’s seen music passed down and passed on since time immemorial.
And it’s not just the banjo, though that somewhat old-fashioned instrument is Luedecke’s musical foil of choice. It’s in the simplicity of his songs, both structurally and lyrically, and in the relaxed, unassuming manner with which he sings, seemingly as natural and easy as breathing.
Luedecke’s sophomore outing is on Black Hen records, the Vancouver-based indie run by Steve Dawson. And as usual for Black Hen releases, Dawson crafts unobtrusive but sonically rich backing that fills things in while leaving Luedecke’s banjo front and centre. He’s backed this time out by Dawson on an astonishing variety of instruments (Weissenborn, lap steel, celeste, pump organ, mellotron .. and that’s just the start!), along with sympaticos Tim O’Brien (guitar, mandolin and fiddle), bassist Keith Lowe, and drummer John Raham. They’re all accomplished players, but tasteful restraint is the order of the day. There are no blazing instrumentals here, and every note is perfectly placed to serve the song.
Luedecke wrote all but one tune, the lone cover an easy-going run through Willie P. Bennett’s “Caney Fork River.” Luedecke’s own compositions are quirky and engaging – they’re wrapped in traditional sounds, but they’re primarily personal ruminations on the world’s foibles, with Luedecke seeking a place amid the everyday absurdity. His voice isn’t strong, but he succeeds by simply being himself, never trying too hard for either the high or low notes. His banjo work, too, is singular, and here too he adopts a ‘less is more’ approach that leans more to folk than bluegrass.
In the end, though, Luedecke doesn’t really sound like anyone else – his is a genuinely unique and singular vision. It won’t be to all tastes, but time spent with Old Man Luedecke won’t be wasted, and My Hands Are On Fire rewards repeated listens, with new facets apparent each time through.