Locals Only: : Suck On That Emotion

Jason Ludwig's stunning, emotive debut album is a masterful first step

Jun 25, 2003 at 2:06 pm

In a city as rich in original (and not so original) music as Cincinnati is, it isn't easy to escape the typical when you give local music a chance. After giving the person who checks (or fails to check) your ID, your $5, you generally experience something so similar to everything else it is daunting. Few of the locals producing original music strive to generate artful compositions that split the barriers of the ordinary. This is not the case with Jason Ludwig.

Ludwig's debut album Pell Mell is a masterpiece in its ability to tastefully express emotion. This is one of those albums that involves the listener so deeply that one cannot listen to it while on the freeway or they'll miss their exit. This is the kind of album your roommate steals. It is the kind of album that brings chills to your spine.

Pell Mell, while consisting of 10 musicians alongside, is Ludwig's brainchild. It is dark, gut wrenching, beautiful and exploratory, while showing off the distinct vocal style that characterizes Ludwig's songs.

The second song, "Low," is the highlight of the album, its dissonance a refreshing accompaniment to sad lyrics like "There was another time when there was/More than one chair/But I've worn out my welcome/I will remove this thorn from your side." The elegance of the piece is thanks, in part, to the brilliance of its arrangement. Mike Goodwin's in-your-face lead guitar trills heighten the desire for resolution as the song reaches its climax, allowing Ludwig to sweeten the end with his soulful finger picking technique. Other highlights include the bright, uplifting opening track, "Godspeed," and the needy proclamation, "Wimp."

All this praise might leave weekenders and discriminating listeners wondering about Ludwig's presence on the live scene. The band formed by Ludwig to publicly display the works of Pell Mell and beyond is a phenomenon known as Noctaluca. Despite the hefty collection of ingredients on Pell Mell, Noctaluca is far from failure in its attempt to do justice to Ludwig's studio endeavor, indeed quite the opposite. However, Ludwig is a delight in the solo medium as well. He's a true entertainer — just watch your girlfriend's eyes as he belts out his massive songs with sheer beatnik (yet graceful) resilience.

Jason Ludwig produces music and words that that will stir the souls of his listeners, but the difference between Ludwig and his counterparts is that he sees the broader picture. To articulate this point is to say that what Jason Ludwig creates is art. These words, this music, are a personal look at an individual whose concepts are so organic that they seem out of the ordinary, when in actuality they are based in the very ideas that make music an art form: originality.

When considering the title, which is defined in Webster's as "in mingled confusion or disorder," it is difficult to find the connection. According to Ludwig, the album fell into place without any consistency, and parts were completed arbitrarily, hence the name. However, in considering the lyrics, the listener is left wondering if the mind of Ludwig itself is in mingled confusion or disorder. The drama contained in Pell Mell is reminiscent of the late musician Jeff Buckley, which comes as no surprise to Ludwig, who says of his inspiration, "I believe that when you die, your soul travels the earth to silently mentor the living. It allows me to fantasize that just before Jeff Buckley took his last fateful breath, God whispered my name and address into his ear."

Pell Mell instills in the local music community a new sense of pride relating to the talent generated in our fair city and beyond. While Jason Ludwig has all the characteristics of a promising ability to "make it big," it remains unclear whether his career will stay in the underground or break the mold and give the commercial music industry a proverbial run for their money. With the recent surge of Star Search-esque competitions seeking to recycle the ordinary, it is with haste that we must praise artists like Ludwig in order to break the mold of what music industry marketing executives feed the public. With up-and-comers like Ludwig producing works like Pell Mell, it is clear that there is still hope of doing so.

JASON LUDWIG celebrates the release of Pell Mell on Saturday at the Yorkshire Club in Newport. Check jasonludwig.com for details.