Old Man Luedecke,
Tender Is the Night
(True North, 2012)

To the best of my knowledge, nobody except me seems to have drawn a line between a young banjo player who calls himself Old Man Luedecke and another banjo player, one Louis Marshall Jones (1913-1998), who at an early age took the stage name Grandpa Jones. Even a recent profile of Luedecke in the venerable British magazine fRoots fails to remark on this (one would think) obvious connection.

As Grandpa Jones was, Old Man Luedecke (Chris Luedecke when not engaged in music) is versed in oldtime music and banjo. Like Jones, he sometimes plays guitar and composes his own songs. Though his music was comic and good-natured, by all accounts the offstage Grandpa Jones was an irascible character. I don't know Luedecke personally, but those who have met him characterize him as cordial and pleasant. Such adjectives also apply to his songs, which tend toward the lighter side of emotion and experience. Luedecke may, in fact, remind you occasionally of the late Steve Goodman. Even the inevitable romantic laments generally feel more rueful than heartbroken. (I reviewed his My Hands Are on Fire here on 10 April 2010. One cut on that album shows that Luedecke can write a scorching protest song when he's of a mind to.)

On first reading of Tender Is the Night's song list, I thought that this time Luedecke had thrown a couple of traditional songs into the mix. It turns out, however, that "Little Stream of Whiskey" and "Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms" aren't what you expect them to be; they're originals, too. "Roll" can be filed in that small category of songs that are about other songs. Elsewhere, in common with Dylan, Luedecke likes to incorporate references to folk songs into his own writing. He conjures up strong melodies and sings them in an expressive tenor. He also has the endearing habit of name-dropping nearly forgotten personalities, including Robert ("Cremation of Sam McGee") Service and Randy (Bachman-Turner Overdrive) Bachman.

The most substantial of the 13 cuts is surely "Song for Ian Tyson," a wry, unostentatious appreciation of a fellow Canadian folk musician, arguably the greatest one of them all: Just an old man drowning in a ten-gallon hat ... Whiskey makes the guitar rusty but soothes the voice like honey for a while / Raise a glass to the cowboy, friend ... whose songs roll on like water for all time. Exactly, and surely a worthy tribute, at once warm and unsentimental, to a man known to wax irritated in the face of flattery.

Veteran roots musician Tim O'Brien, who plays a variety of stringed instruments behind Luedecke, accomplishes his usual superior production work on this album, recorded in Nashville.

music review by
Jerome Clark

2 March 2013

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