When I saw a bit of Matt Andersen’s set at Byron Bay’s Bluesfest 2013, I got the impression that this Canadian was a virtuoso guitarist who was pretty reliant on covers of other material. I have since found out that his excellent take of Bill Withers’s classic “Ain’t No Sunshine” had become a signature tune for him. In fact his You Tube views are now up to over two million (with his clip of “Sunshine” around one million alone), a level of notice that many performers would happily take.
Still, only a small number of artists have been able to sustain any sort of long-term career based on covers, no matter how good the original songs and how refreshing and transformational the interpretations. Matt Andersen, with a new album Weightless and embarking on an Australian tour this December and January, has had some interesting things to say on this very point.
It’s been a struggle, but I’ve shaken off the easy route and focused more on my own stuff at shows.”
His reputation as a blues man won him the 2013 European Blues Award for Best Solo/Acoustic Act, three Maple Blues Awards in 2012, and the 2010 International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Now with Weightless, his debut release for True North Records (released Friday November 21 through Planet MGM), Andersen shifts his talents as a blues performer to his songcraft.
Something you won’t hear on Weightless are extended guitar solos. Andersen will let you wait for his live show for that. “It’s fun to do, but on albums I want to focus on the songs more. I don’t want it to turn into something where every tune is a big wank”. That delineation is evident from the outset of the new album. “I Lost My Way” opens proceedings, one of the two co-writes with Joel Plaskett, where he is singing a soul/gospel melody over a reggae groove. Here’s a clip of that song:
Then he channels Van Morrison on “My Last Day”, before delivering a beautiful country ballad co-written with David Myles “So Easy”. There’s also the spiritual “What Will You Leave” which is my favourite. What you are left with is an artist who has a giant, soul-filled voice a la Joe Cocker without the gargling. There’s something here pretty much for everyone.
Andersen’s discography boasts seven albums, including one Christmas album, one live collection, and two albums with harmonica player Mike Stevens. His last release, 2011’s Coal Mining Blues, was produced by Colin Linden (Blackie and the Rodeo Kings) and was recorded at Levon Helm’s studio in Woodstock, NY. This time out he turned to Steve Berlin of Los Lobos for production duties, the latter bringing Calgary guitarist Paul Rigby on board, who is best known as Neko Case’s right-hand man.
One thing Andersen won’t be doing in the near future is learning other people’s songs to flesh out his set (Andersen plays at least 200 shows a year). It’s pretty discernible that, if you saw Matt Anderson on his last trip to Australia, you are going to get something different and original, this time around.
MATT ANDERSEN TOUR DATES
Sunday Dec 28 – Thursday Jan 01
Woodford Folk Festival QLD
Sunday Jan 04
The Milk Factory
48 Montague St, South Brisbane QLD
Ph: 0421 440 783
Thursday Jan 08
42 King St, Newtown, NSW
Ph: 02 9557 9409
Friday Jan 09
115a Cronulla St, Cronulla, NSW
Ph: 02 9544 3844
Saturday Jan 10
Flying Saucer Club
4 St Georges Rd, Elsternwick, VIC
Ph: 03 9528 3600
Sunday Jan 11
Thornbury Theatre – Velvet Room
859 High St, Thornbury, VIC
Ph: 03 9484 9831
Tickets to all shows on sale now
Via Annie Johnsson Publicity