By Robert Reid
Chris (Old Man) Luedecke idolized the late, esteemed Pete Seeger.
Luedecke tells a story of travelling 18 hours to see his idol perform. Not only did he witness the folk legend onstage, he was able to chat briefly after the concert.
But when Luedecke confided that he had travelled a great distance in an old, beat-up car, Seeger chastised him for polluting the environment.
Luedecke will undoubtedly regale audience members with the tale when he returns to perform at the Original Princess Cinema.
It doesn’t get any simpler than a man singing his own songs while hammering away on the banjo.
But if this sounds like some backwards Appalachian savant, think again. Music aficionados in tune with postmodern folk music recognize Luedecke as a deceptively sophisticated artist.
Raised in Ontario and based in rural Nova Scotia, Luedecke has earned improbable success breathing new life into the clawhammer style of picking associated with such back-porch banjo pioneers as Dock Boggs, Roscoe Holcolm and Bascom Lunsford. The style was later adapted by Seeger, a blacklisted artist who was at the vanguard of the folk revival of the 1960s.
Luedecke is returning to Waterloo on Friday for his third Live on Stage appearance since the spring of 2010. The concert is the second in the popular music series to be co-sponsored with Folkway Music.
The multiple Juno-winner comes after releasing his fourth studio album Tender is the Night (with a nod to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel and John Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale).
After releasing three albums with producer Steve Dawson on his Black Hen label, Luedecke turned to Tim O’Brien to produce. The American bluegrass legend made a guest appearance on Luedecke’s third album My Hands Are on Fire and Other Love Songs.
Released by True North Records, the album was recorded in Nashville at John Prine’s studio The Butcher Shoppe. Luedecke was joined by renowned Nashville cats Mike Bub (Del McCoury Band) and Kenny Malone (Townes Van Zandt, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle, Merle Haggard, Steve Martin and Prine, among others).
Luedecke didn’t record in Music City for aesthetic reasons. He was keen on working with O’Brien, who he describes as “all things folk.”
“It wasn’t an ideological or geographical decision,” Luedecke said over the phone from his home in Chester, N.S. “It’s where Tim lives and works.”
The recording was completed over three or four days, with O’Brien, a gifted multi-instrumentalist, contributing on guitar and harmony vocals.
“We locked down in a trio setting and then Kenny came in to lay down the percussion tracks.”
The finished product was “a big sound of acoustic instruments.”
“It felt wonderful,” Luedecke recalls. “The whole process was inspiring.”
A modest, bespectacled man who speaks softly, Luedecke concedes, “We came out with a pretty good record.”
A quick glance at the album’s 13 songs might suggest a religious theme with such titles as Kingdom Come, Jonah & the Whale and Long Suffering Jesus.
Although Luedecke graduated from university with a double major in English and religious studies, he explains he is simply looking for appropriate words with which to express his ideas. For example, Jonah & the Whale “is about a guy working in an oilpatch.”
“It’s a way of tapping into something bigger to engage listeners without relying on clichés.”
Recording in Nashville with a prominent producer has paid dividends beyond the quality of the album. Since its release, Luedecke has made four major forays to the U.S., sharing the bill with O’Brien and performing solo.
“It’s expanded my work in the States. I didn’t tour much in Canada last year.”
Notwithstanding the wit, intelligence and sophistication of his lyrics, Luedecke’s blend of folk, old-time country, bluegrass and mountain music falls into an identifiable style in the U.S. known as Americana.
“Although there’s a fair bit of Canadian content in my songs, American audiences are certainly hip to the musical influences I draw on. It feels like I’ve found a musical home there.”
Luedecke is excited about returning to the Princess. For the first time he will be accompanied by a multi-instrumentalist and a bassist.
“Basically it should be the same sound as the album.”
In addition to performing material from Tender is the Night, Luedecke will introduce songs he recorded with close friend and fellow Nova Scotia singer-songwriter Joel Plaskett on I Never Sang Before I Met You.
“It’s a cracker of an EP, more on the pop side than bare-bones folk.”
Live on Stage
Old Man Luedecke
Original Princess Cinema
8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21
Tickets ($25) online at eventbrite.ca/e/old-man-luedecke-feb-21-2014-tickets-4454128418