Why am I sitting down at a laptop, writing a review of Old Man Luedecke’s seventh record to be published on an online media content website? If I were to write about Bassnectar, or Tame Impala, heck even the traveling troubadour Father John Misty, there would be some kind of communion between mediums, a purchase to be wrestled from the intersection of two technologies. But Domestic Eccentric feels, in every way besides perhaps the title, like an alien substance to these alphabet keys and programming codes that will produce this review. It isn’t oppositional to the modernity as much as totally indifferent, like the difference between an ex-lover you hate and a member of the opposite sex you’ve never noticed before.
Old Man Luedecke makes back-to-your-roots folk music that relies heavily on banjo picking. But the heaviest notes on your ears will be Chris Luedecke’s voice which never seems to divert much from a rambling yodel. None of this is necessarily incompatible with “good” music (far from it), as evidenced by the near century of Appalachian and country standards. But it does carry an extra hill for Luedecke to get over, an extra question he has to justify. Why do we need another rambling banjo picker? There have already been so many.
On Domestic Eccentric his answer seems to be mostly that the themes explored by the roving gambler, ones which gel nicely with his instrument of choice (the banjo), are as topical today as they ever were and therefore continue to be relevant. Luedecke sings about broken hearts and broken bottles, women who hurt him and women he has hurt. Fair enough.
But Luedecke’s banjo is a work of revivalism, not creation. Which means that the heights of enjoyment he can bring are nearly limitless, and you will enjoy Domestic Eccentric, but the chance that the enjoyment will be distinctly memorable to his name is less likely. When Sufjan Stevens pulls out his banjo, most noticeably on his excellent Seven Swans record, he is able to bend the notes to his own purpose, distilling years of the instrument's history into something immediate and even uncommon. It screams a demand for more, and more from him. Domestic Eccentric seems to have this in common with the new album of covers from The Lowest Pair, an album that seems more interested in reproducing artifacts of ancient sounds than bending the immediacy of recognized hits to new formal regulations.
So though Luedecke knows how to have a good time with a pick in his hand (“Yodelady” and “Hate What I Say” sway and jostle with the distinct smell of a good time), and is even able to force your gaze inward (he is especially poignant on the homely “Now We Got a Kitchen”), it is hard to imagine finding a new classic beneath this album’s underbrush. The standards you remember were forged in your mind with the passing years and Luedecke’s music will not have the opportunity to grow as familiar. Worse, his music doesn’t allow for a dialogue with today’s folk, bluegrass movement, almost like he’d never hopped on the internet to explore what was happening all around him.