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Proof Positive

Banjo storyteller Old Man Ludecke returns with new album Proof of Love

Air Banjo Old Man Luedeke rises to the occasion with his new album, Proof of Love photo Riley Smith

Chris Luedecke is a little concerned that his lyrical affection for bacon might be his epitaph. He can imagine the news anchor announcing, “As Old Man Luedecke once said , ‘If I’m not mistaken, the answer is bacon.’”

That concern is but one of the inspirations keeping Luedecke writing new material, though he’s not avoiding food or the rituals around food in his songs. Far from it, as one of the tracks on his new album Proof of Love---a full band recording released through Vancouver’s Black Hen Music---is called “Big Group Breakfast,” an ode to the classic greasy hangover meal. A wonderful thing about the Chester-based songwriter’s tunes is his observant skill at expressing the essential joys in life, as well as their dark, occasionally porcine, underbellies.

“One of the first songs I wrote was about the crippling smell of bacon, already once removed from that visceral experience of eating bacon,” he recounts on a busy Friday afternoon at Tom’s Little Havana. “It was a really jokey, John Prine-y song, how this woman was the smell of bacon. You’d see her or smell her and that was it. You’d die.”

Proof of Love is an album stuffed with down-to-earth stories, Luedecke’s manifestos on life---navigating through both the complexities of love and “the barren wastes of abject fear” to find some kind of understanding.

“I think many songs come out in a tension between what I want to be true and what I see to be true,” he says, laughing. “Every now and then you step back and go, ‘Hey, this is OK,’ but most of the time I’m taking a second helping of grief and misunderstanding. I guess I’m looking for it in some way, I tend to the dramatic. That sounds neurotic and probably is, but it seems to be necessary to getting things to come out right.”

When he does get grim, like in parts of “Just Like a River,” the honesty is startling. Where the song’s verse is a hopeful and bright declaration of intent that “this world is it, I will make it my home,” the chorus suggests a difficult time finding that intent, utilizing very modern language for a folk idiom: “I’ve been to the bottom of fear and self-loathing.”

“I left that line in there and I couldn’t really do anything about it,” says Luedecke. “I really want to know that things are hopeful, that the people that are telling you those things aren’t trying to sell you something, that it’s easy. I don’t have a great tolerance for either extreme. For me, the way I can best get across the things I have to say is for both to coexist.”

A banjo player and folk singer, Luedecke’s interest is in authenticity, something he finds listening to Smithsonian Folkways recordings. “These are recordings of single people or sometimes groups of people, but they’re singing the true songs of their lives. I’m picking away at writing those songs. If folk music is going to survive it has to grow and encompass songs that will be like those early ones, but be contemporary.”

A contemporary concern of Luedecke’s is the environment, and an album of songs inspired by the eco-activism of Pete Seeger---pithily titled For Pete’s Sake---was scheduled for release late last year, but has been shelved for the time being. It was prompted by a trip Luedecke took to see Seeger perform in New York State. Meeting him after a show, the folk legend chastised Luedecke for being an air polluter, having driven so far. A song written for that record found it’s way onto Proof of Love, the wonderfully, simply melodic “Little Bird,” which sounds so instantly familiar it’s hard to believe it wasn’t penned 150 years ago by Stephen Foster.

“I sat in the armchair. I remember sitting there and writing it,” he says. “That’s the kind of song you live for because I didn’t have to do to much. I mean, I’ve been writing really shitty environmental songs for years, but when I wrote that I knew that I got it. And I love singing it because people can sing along right away.”

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