Fun Fact: Luke Ydstie is a member of Blind Pilot, Hook & Anchor, Alialujah Choir, and appears on countless records as a studio ringer.
It doesn’t happen often, but every once in awhile I run into a musician in the studio who is equally skilled as a session player and a songwriter. When I first met Luke Ydstie in 2011, he was the upright bass player for Blind Pilot when we were recording We Are The Tide. Two years later, we were back in the studio with his other band, Hook & Anchor, anchored by his longtime collaborator and muse Kati Claborn. With this band, I saw Luke’s talents brought more to the forefront, taking a more integral role with arranging and singing as well as penning his own song, Wild Wind.
Another two years later, he was back in the studio, this time as the main songwriter for an unnamed project with no aspirations other than documenting a group of songs that left me flabbergasted. After recording artists for almost 20 years, I can’t stress how rare it is to find someone so gifted as both a player and a songwriter. I could name names here but that’s not necessary. What is necessary is to understand Luke’s ability to come across as such a consummate songwriter, all the while humbly showing his understanding and mastery of melody and restraint. His vocal delivery is something to behold; he somehow manages to deliver in a style that is simultaneously delicate and boastful, a gift that will draw you in even if you enter a room unaware of what is on the hi-fi.
As we all know, talking about music is truly a difficult task, an impossible task you could say, but we still try. And I attempt to convince you that these songs are beautiful in their simplicity and their honesty. Collected Essential Works is an heartfelt record - even to the point where Luke & Kati’s newborn appears, crying out for who-knows-what, strapped to Luke’s chest while tracking bass. She needed to be held, that’s what happened while he was tracking, so that’s what’s there. That is the spirit of this record, it’s purity and elegance. Kati Claborn provides beguiling harmonies and banjo (to see them play live as a duo is a true treat and her harmonies can be powerful and delicate from one line to the next) and Ryan Dobrowski plays drums in a manner that take the songs away from your typical singer-songwriter arrangements. He doesn’t go for the obvious beats, he views the drum set as an instrument of melodic expression and accompaniment, not simply as a rhythmic tool to ground the songs.
With this approach, the songs soar into more grandiose territory. Luke does not overload these songs with all the talents he possesses in his quiver. He lets the vocal melodies, harmonies, and rhythms take center stage and doesn’t muck around with complicated arrangements that could easily take the songs into ill-fated territory.
These songs are infectious. They give more and more with each listen; there’s a mood captured here that is special and rare. We’re lucky to have Luke as an accomplished session player, and even luckier as a songwriter and a singer.
- Adam Selzer (Alialujah Choir, Norfolk & Western, M. Ward)