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In the music spotlight: Jonathan Rundman

BY JEFF ELBEL | FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA

Jonathan Rundman hasn’t made a pop record in ten years, but it wasn’t due to lack of ideas. Since releasing 2004’s beguiling “Public Library,” Rundman has toured and recorded Nordic folk albums with Finnish-American duo Kaivama, developed a liturgical song cycle, collaborated on an Americana record called “Tennesota” with former Chicago-area pop songstress Beki Hemingway, and raised two children as a stay-home dad.

“I never set out to be a liturgist, and I had no clue that I would become a Finnish folk musician,” says Rundman with a laugh. “I’ve enjoyed these detours, but in my own mind I’m primarily a pop songwriter.”

The expanded experience base augments Rundman’s fundamental gifts on his new album “Look Up.” “It’s my first album written from the experience of a parent,” says Rundman. “That’s huge. As a rock and roll guy, liturgical music and Nordic folk music also made my compositions more sophisticated and melodically nuanced.”

Rundman’s abiding love of New Wave still informs songs like “Flying on a Plane.” The blend of crunchy guitars, bubble-gum melody and noodly synthesizers will appeal to fans of the Eurythmics and Cars. “My childhood in the ‘80s is really coming through,” says Rundman.

“The Science of Rockets” portrays the tendency to over-think and complicate simple things at home. “I wrote that song with Jeff Krebs. We imagined a couple trying to work through a problem,” says Rundman. “In retrospect, I wonder whether it’s a song from myself to myself.”

Rundman delves into the mystery surrounding a 17th century holy man with “The Ballad of Nikolaus Rungius.” “He’s my 14th great uncle,” says Rundman. “He was a Lutheran pastor in northern Finland by the Arctic Circle, and now he’s a tourist attraction. His body never decayed. After 100 years, his parishoners put his corpse in a glass coffin and buried him in the floor of the church.”

Rundman’s “Public Library” made a splash with odes to the “Smart Girls” and “Librarian.” The album was recorded with alt-country band The Silos, and produced by their frontman Walter Salas-Humara. Rundman’s relationship with Salas-Humara has evolved from hero and mentor to collaborator. The pair co-wrote “Helicopters of Love,” voicing desperate hope for rescue from natural and man-made catastrophes.

On Saturday at Schuba’s, Rundman will perform his own material before joining Salas-Humara on keyboards. “In Chicago, we’ll have guests,” says Rundman. “Last summer, we played with Jon Langford and Nora O’Connor. This show’s going to be super fun.”

Jonathan Rundman, opening for Walter Salas-Humara, 7PM, Dec. 13, Schubas, 3159 N Southport. $12-$15 (21+over); schubas.com. SPOTIFY playlist: http://tinyurl.com/RundmanSPOT

Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer. Email: elbel.jeff@gmail.com