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“We love those styles and we want to keep them alive, so we just celebrate some of the old tunes and do our best to pay homage to it by writing new ones.”
It’s impossible to write about Luke Winslow-King without bringing up New Orleans, the place the singer/songwriter/guitarist calls home. The city’s rich musical heritage and unique culture have provided endless inspiration for Luke, whose new album, The Coming Tide, appears in stores April 23 via Bloodshot Records. The resulting mix of blues, folk and traditional jazz goes down smooth, like Southern Comfort and lime.
Luke and his band, which also includes duet partner Esther Rose, have a genuine affinity for those classic styles from the pre-World War II era but aren’t trying to be a nostalgia act.
“We try to focus on creating modern, contemporary music within that style and not just be a throwback re-creationist band,” says Luke, as he and his group travel to a show shortly after a week in Austin for the South by Southwest music conference. “We love those styles and we want to keep them alive, so we just celebrate some of the old tunes and do our best to pay homage to it by writing new ones.”
But the Cadillac, Mich., native originally landed in the Crescent City almost by accident. While traveling the country with another band, Luke fell in love with New Orleans despite falling victim to crime.
“I was on a road trip and I was there with a band,” he recalls. “My car got stolen, and I auditioned for college for the music composition program. It just kind of all happened and I was in love with the place.”
The songs on The Coming Tide, like the title track and “Moving On (Towards Better Days),” are more impressionistic than typical country songs, conjuring smoky bars and the Big Easy’s less-explored neighborhoods.
“That’s what makes our stuff a little bit different than country music that sometimes has such a direct narrative, whereas the country blues offers you a few separate narratives that go together to paint a picture,” he says. “That’s what we’re most interested in now—writing something that seems simple and feels easy and also feels like something you’re familiar with.”
There are also two covers: Blind Willie Johnson’s “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning” and a radical, one-chord remake of Rudy Clark’s “I’ve Got My Mind Set on You,” a 1987 hit for George Harrison.
The album also calls to mind images of buskers playing for tips in the streets just for the love of it. Luke spent a good portion of the last decade doing just that, and made many friends in the process who have become collaborators and fellow touring artists.
“There’s five or six bands from the area that we’re tight with that we run into out on the road now,” he says. “We all come from a similar background and history, and are rooted in that traditional sound of New Orleans.”
He pauses for a beat, then chuckles.
“Although almost all of us are imported white kids from the North that moved to discover that music.”