We first met Chris Luquette at a house show in Virginia’s horse country. We immediately became a fan. We were blown away by this picker’s chops.
The kid can play guitar with the best of them. Our DelFest wish list is for a Billy Strings-Luquette pairing. Doesn’t matter who sits in with whose band. Just be sure it is somewhere with nothing flammable nearby.
Anyhow, after that show, we sat and talked a bit over some Heady Topper (tip your musicians!). Our shared love of hops led to further conversations after Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen shows. Down at Common Ground on the Hill last summer, we were talking — sans beer — when he reached into his bag and handed us a copy of his debut solo album “The Way I View the World.”
We looked him in the eye and sad, ‘It’s about time.”
Seriously, we’d been waiting for this for a while. Pretty sure the first time he mentioned the project was at that Virginia house show. It was worth the wait. And it also sort of gives us some immunity for the delay in getting this review written, which has taken almost as long.
First thing you should know, this is not a pure bluegrass album. We don’t mean traditional vs. progressive. We mean not every song is bluegrass, no matter how you stretch that term.
That’s not a problem. Matter of fact, when Luquette plugs in and does a twangy cover of “I Miss A Lot of Trains,” a well curated Tom T. Hall classic, it’s our second favorite moment on the CD. It’s a sing along bit of alt-country that would be at home in Austin or Jersey City.
Our hands down favorite, though, is “Home To You,” a song we’ve loved since that house show. It’s a sentimental tale, based on a true story, about a World War II the found diary of a Marine pilot who died fighting over the Pacific. As he does throughout the album, Luquette plays both mandolin and guitar on this one. Dirty Kitchen bandmate Mike Munford stands out on banjo.
Munford helped produce a banjo-tinged, grassy cover of “Helplessly Hoping,” the Stephen Stills classic. It features Dudley Connell, of Seldom Scene, singing lead, with Luquette and former Dirty Kitchen bass man Danny Booth on harmonies.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment with “The Way I View the World” is that those three are the only songs on the 12-song album with vocals. Luquette admits that is, in part, due to a lack of confidence in himself as a lead singer. It’s an unfounded fear. And it seems to be changing as he does more of his own shows during breaks in the FSDK schedule.
Don’t get the wrong idea about the rest of the album. Even though we are from the Peter Rowan school when it comes to vocals, we don’t mind a few instrumentals, especially when the picking is as good as it is here.
Among those instrumentals, “Pacifist Blues” stands out. It’s a jazz tinged, listening, not dancing, sort of number with some Gypsy/Old World influences and beautiful, technical picking, including a sweet bass solo by Dan Eubanks, of Special Consensus, who along with Munford plays on the entire album. Eubanks also plays drums on “I Miss A Lot of Trains” and an electric version of Tony Rice’s “Is That So” (more on that in a moment).
“Union Valley,” the instrumental that leads off the album, is a more traditional bluegrass tune, with the miracles of modern recording allowing Luquette to show off his versatility by playing solo breaks on both guitar and mandolin, with Munford and fiddler Patrick McAvinue also taking turns.
Luquette wrote, or cowrote, most of the rest of the album, with three notable exceptions — his arrangment of the traditional tune “Down In Willow Garden,” “Pickens County,” a fine fiddle tune that was written by Solivan, and “Is That So,” a jazz influenced Rice tune. “Is That So” actually appears twice, once acoustic, with Solivan contributing on fiddle, and a 10-minute electric version, with drums that is preceded by the spacey, new-age “Interlude.”
“Interlude” and the electric version of “Is That So” are the Achilles heels of the project. We talked about the two tunes, and how out of place they felt, with Luquette and we buy his explanation. He wanted the album to be an expression of who he is as a musician and while he spends most of his time playing bluegrass, he likes to plug in and play other stuff sometimes, too. It’s an artistic, not commercial, decision and we respect that. (Though we still think it would have been better to make the electric version of “Is That So” the last track and label it as a “bonus track.”)
All in all it’s a very solid first effort, a collection of diverse influences, most of which fit under bluegrass’s big tent. This is not a masterpiece album. Self-produced debuts seldom are. But it is a strong showcase for Luquette’s talents as a songwriter, a musician, and yes, as a singer and it certainly establishes Luquette as far more than just a sideman and harmony vocalist. This kid can cook a little on his own, too.