Pop & Hiss

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Someone sign Maxim Ludwig by the end of the day, please

May 21, 2009 |  2:07 pm


After my second time seeing the unnervingly young L.A. singer-songwriter Maxim Ludwig and his band, the Santa Fe Seven, (once at Stagecoach and then Wednesday night at the Troubadour), I hereby put out a call to P&H's myriad Nashville power-player readers to sign this fellow post-haste. Not only is he a virtuosic beard-grower but his live sets do so many different things right that it's easy to imagine him crossing over into all sorts of fan bases -- Dwight Yoakam alt-folk types, catharsis-craving Conor Oberst fans and maybe even some adventurous dads who think "Nebraska" is still the best Springsteen album.

His Troubadour set (opening for the Detroit Cobras) missed the doo-wop accents provided by his backup singers at Stagecoach. But even in a smaller setting, Ludwig's stage presence borders on feral. He spends about a fifth of each set seemingly trying to separate his larynx from his body, but it's a deep, resonant scream that sounds rooted in real desperation rather than petulance (he hits a pretty pure falsetto too and it evens things out). His band, many of whom looked dewy enough to get carded for buying cigarettes, is watertight and hit all the little stops and starts that take a good song's moving parts and make them great. And the songs are very good indeed; the slow-burn ballads ("To Be With Sweet Marie") prove he's spent time with Willie, and the bangers like "Big Black Train" have all the swagger of the E Street Band, if that E Street were in 1970s Laurel Canyon and gently tweaked hippies drove it riding in stolen Cadillacs.

His self-titled album is on iTunes now and anybody who remembers when Wilco wasn't a noise band or when Ryan Adams wasn't rapping should go buy it. And if you happen to own a tastemaking country label, let it be known that you should hop on this train early. This kid and his beard are going to be much more famous very, very quickly.

-- August Brown

Photo by Douglas Kirkland