Tender Is the Night is the fifth solo collection from Old Man (Chris) Luedecke, and it feels like some of the musical ideas he’s been working with are really beginning to gel. His writing has always been very strong, remaining true to the roots of American folk and country music, though dealing with modern themes and ideas.
The production on some of the earlier releases, however, often sounded as if he was trying to find his footing. In some instances the settings for his songs were overly sparse; in others, it was overly rich, as with the fuller band numbers that were included on 2008’s “Proof of Love.” He was ranging across the spectrum of arrangements in order to find a home, not entirely successfully.
But with “Tender Is the Night” he’s clearly found what he was looking for thanks in large part to the involvement of Tim O’Brien who produced and plays on this album. O’Brien’s mandolin, fiddle, octave mandolin, guitars and harmony vocals are the perfect accompaniment to Luedecke’s quirky, unique and delightful lyrics and hooks. The production has granted a confidence and clarity to Luedecke’s writing, especially on songs like “I’m Fine (I Am, I Am)” which are tougher to pull off solo, just him and his banjo, which is the typical approach of his live gigs.
All of the great things that Luedecke has been doing so well are also utterly intact here, in particular the way he brings traditional sounds and structures to modern ideas. On “A&W Song,” he laments the awkward feelings of holding up a line while the debit card reader rejects your pin. It’s an idea that could come dangerously close to novelty, but he’s a skilled enough writer to give the idea real poignancy.
The material has a nice range: Luedecke can be old-time mournful, as on “Little Stream of Whiskey,” and cunningly funny on “Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms.” Throughout is the charm that comes through so well in his live shows. If you haven’t given much thought to Old Man Luedecke in the past, this is the album that you might want to give a good listen to. It has the feeling of a true arrival, and I suspect that that’s exactly what “Tender Is the Night” will prove to be.