At age 33, Luke Winslow-King commands a certain rhythm. It was born of place: from his Cadillac, Michigan roots to current New Orleans base, and has matured on the streets where he played for cash back in the day.
It manifests in the cadence of his speech; in his songs about life and love, elation and absolute misery — from the sojourn-style interludes on his first self-titled collection to the soul-soaked blues of his latest Bloodshot Records release, “I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always.”
It is especially present in the groove a simple three-piece outfit pack onto one stage.
Luke Winslow-King opens for Michigan outfit Greensky Bluegrass at the Orpheum Theater Wednesday, Oct. 26. Doors open at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance, $23 at the door. To learn more, call 556-1580 or visit OrpheumFlagstaff.com.
Some might make quick-draw comparisons to Winslow-King’s style and traditional blues or gospel. But it’s his ear for a well-crafted and unique melody that’s gaining ground with fans and pulls his discography apart from contemporary cuts of a similar ilk.
He explained the origins of this melodic dynamism crosses state lines, alma maters and beyond.
“I still have that in a part of my mind, but now it’s more visceral and natural and off-the-cuff a little bit,” he said of this learning curve. “But I think that compositional approach is kind of engrained within me even when I’m making up a simple melody now. I really try not to overthink it and just make it natural.”
Winslow-King compiled his self-titled album in 2008 while living and working as a music therapist and teacher in New York City. With a background and education in music composition, he noted his focus then was creating music that read well on paper while seeing visual melody. These arrangements continue to be purposefully crafted, he said, to sound simultaneously familiar and completely original — something people can relate to.
Musically animated and exploratory, Winslow-King illustrates his progression on his newest record and on stage with his band of multi-instrumental professionals featuring Cassidy Holden’s electric bass and jazz drumming expert Benji Bohannon.
“Performance-wise, we leave it pretty well open where every night is a different performance and we’re able to improvise within the framework of the song,” he said. “Every night they bring something diff to the table and maybe push me in a direction maybe haven’t been expecting.”
But for any lamenting heartbreak, “Trouble” isn’t far behind. First a cathartic expression for the writer who dug into the open wound of a recent divorce from Esther Rose, his long-time musical collaborator, listeners then careen along to the aching lyrics and slide guitar work that has earned Winslow-King a stellar reputation.
“Back in the day, when I was busking and trying to make a living, I’d play anywhere to a captive audience,” he said of those days in European metro stations and American streets. “I had a great time playing music that way, bringing music directly to the people. You kind of cut out the middle man.”
The musician happily put those busking days behind him for steady work in Frenchmen Street clubs — home to New Orleans’ most revered music venues.
But that organic sound sticky with delta heat still resonates deeply within the group. After all, when Winslow-King first landed in one of the world’s richest cultural hubs, it was an accident. At 19 he abandoned college in Michigan and embarked on a road trip that led him to New Orleans where his car was hotwired and all the band’s gear stolen.
Yet he found home there — a sense cemented while immersed in the classical music program at the University of New Orleans, and flowed into friendships with influential musicians specializing in the city’s incomparable style. He even recorded his second effort, 2009’s “Old/New Baby,” inside the hallowed walls — musically speaking — of Preservation Hall.
Past that turning point on a musical journey tracking smooth folk to today’s throwback resonance, now the trimmed-up trio is able to experiment with a heavier sound while still engaging with returning audiences and those just joining the ranks.
“The only thing that doesn’t work is not paying attention to your audience and just regurgitating the same material and not accommodating them,” he said of the band’s live aura. “I think that’s something I learned in street performance — really trying to read an individual and an audience and try to give them the experience that they need…Maybe they’ll find something they’re not used to.”