At first you’d almost think that Old Man Luedecke was a musical gimmick. He has a folksie name, he plays the banjo almost exclusively, and he dresses pretty conservatively. This sure isn’t any kind of ironic hipster roots music. The best part about Old Man Luedecke is that he is exactly who he is. He writes unvarnished, unpretentious folk songs and picks along gaily with his sweet clawhammer banjo-playing. And he’s done quite well for himself. In fact, he’s one of the better known roots artists coming out of Canada right now. That’s because his songs are so open and honest and compelling, that it’s hard not to fall in step with him. Luedecke’s kind of like a modern day Woody Guthrie, if Guthrie had been born Canadian, and written songs that were more about living a well-loved life than killing fascists. I think of him like the Jason Segal Muppets-remake: he wins in the end because he keeps his music kind and welcoming. His new album, Tender is the Night, is a great way to get to know his music if you’re not familiar already. In all honesty, I was really hoping that this album would continue the intriguing direction of his last album, My Hands Are on Fire and Other Love Songs. There, Luedecke was experimenting with a fully fleshed out band and some more indie influences. With Tender is the Night, Luedecke returns to familiar ground, breaking down folk song after folk song in his own trademark style. With the great Tim O’Brien producing, we have here a 100% folk music album, the kind of folk music that we used to make before the hordes of singer-songwriters subverted the name. This is good, old-fashioned music for the people.
Town Mountain — Leave the Bottle (Pinecastle Records 2012)
So many bands these days are looking for ways to move beyond the bluegrass label, looking to be “Americana,” or “indie,” or anything other than back-woods North Carolina ass-kicking bluegrass. So thank god that Town Mountain are around to blow a hole in all the genre-juggling games of which music writers like myself are so fond. They play bluegrass. Period. They play it hard, they play it fast, and they play it like their fingers are bleeding and their picks are breaking. Which is exactly how you should play bluegrass. Which isn’t to say they’re a bunch of young speedsters, for they can hold it down just as well on slower songs, bringing the same intense emotion to their singing and playing at the lower bpm levels. Their new album, Leave the Bottle, aptly balances out the tempos, showcasing a band at the top of their game. Chock-full of original songs, Leave the Bottle has many highlights, from the raw-edged grit of “Lawdog” to the old-school burner “Lookin in the Mirror” or the Jerry Lee Lewis swagger of “Up the Ladder.” So often in bluegrass it seems that young bands have something to prove, but the impression you get from listening to Town Mountain is just pure comfort and joy in the music.
Tim O’Brien & Darrell Scott — We’re Usually A Lot Better Than This (Full Lights 2012)
The new album from roots music masters Tim O’Brien & Darrell Scott has been quite a confusing journey for me. It’s a live album, but it was recorded back in 2005 and 2006, so it’s pretty old by now. It’s the sequel to their first album together, but it includes a few tracks from that album. And the earlier album came out in 2000, so not too far behind when this was recorded… Aw jeez, who cares! Sometimes we can get so stuck on getting our facts right and doing our homework as reviewers that we forget to just listen and enjoy. This is a masterful and joyous live album from two great masters who are obviously having a blast together. It’s truly remarkable that they can play this tightly and weave their music together so well without having rehearsed and polished this duo to death. The fact that they’re not always perfectly in sync is actually the best part of the album. It feels vibrantly live, and you find yourself wishing you were at this concert, which must have been a grand night!
If you want the full story of how this album came about, go over to Uprooted Music Revue to read their revealing interview with both Tim and Darrell. Whatever the case of how and when this album was made, it’s just great. Darrell Scott’s singing on Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freightliner Blues” is electric, and you can feel the buzz in the house that night. Tim O’Brien’s singing on “Mick Ryan’s Lament” is remarkably moving, and brings a deft bit of Celtic taste to the album, without having to bring on any maudlin Irish trappings. “Keep Your Lamp and Trimmed and Burning” is a delightfully swirling spin-around through the classic song, and “You Don’t Have to Move the Mountain” is like a master-class in how to fit gospel blues into modern bluegrass. I could go over the other highlights of this album, but honestly it’s pretty clear that this is a must-have album for any roots music lovers. It’s there in the name: Tim O’Brien & Darrell Scott. ‘Nuff said!