The Juno Awards nominated New Brunswicker blues guitarist and vocalist MATT ANDERSEN released a fabulous album titled “Honest Man” last spring, produced in New York with Commissioner Gordon (Joss Stone, Amy Winehouse.) It’s a collection of simmering songs, chants and dances — delivered with an astonishing peach-mustard voice.
This week we enjoyed seeing Mat’s emotional and impressive stage show at London’s swishy music venue, the Borderline. The musician is famous for his incredible acoustic-blues performances, for his simple style and his friendly banter.
His breathtaking mastery of blues guitar is amazing, and it takes in flamenco and classic elements too. “He broke three strings in the first five minutes of the last show I saw…” a fan told me. And we could see how it could easily happen again within a few minutes of opening song “Make You Stay” that was an outpouring of finger-picked majesty — fermented by melancholy.
The next song was, he told us, “about a friend of mine back home who has a girlfriend nobody likes...” The number, “I Play The Fool For You” played roughly with bottleneck, had a shovelful of gravel and phlegm in each rising. “Now I know your reputation, I know you’re always on the move...” he snorts. But this is actually a song of consensus and acceptance … in other words it’s given without any self-surrender or pity.
The London set was full of songs, one after the other. Some lasted only a minute, others were longer and perhaps more hokey. And that’s fine — we were happy to contend with the soupy when it came — because it’s ladled out from such a big heart. During the performance, Matt played in ever more urgent up-tempo flurries, creating rhythms-upon-rhythms with a multitude of finger taps, picks and walking bass patterns provided by thick, driving thumb.
But the magic potion was, of course, his voice. Probably one of the most effective songs in the London concert was his softly picked “Quiet Company” which, he told the audience, is a song about, “One of those friends we all have… that we turn to in need and it’s good to have around...” This song like many others in the collection, was hearty and warm. Like a healing broth on the simmer. Curative and unpretentious.
We enjoyed some uninhibited audience participation when he offered the gospel-influenced civil rights protest song “People Get Ready” — originally released by The Impressions [written by lead singer Curtis Mayfield.]
It’s a song that’s been covered by everybody from Dylan to Rod Stewart via Jeff Beck. The Andersen version is fruity and gorgeous — we did the oohs and aahs and we clapped along in time to the soothing poetry. And we realized, in our heart-of-hearts, that even though this should be a hymn of our time — of all times — the 60’s ideals have somehow been lost along the way. Perhaps, corrupted by greed and ignorance, our generation has turned its back on human understanding & social empathy.
“I come from East…” Matt later tells the audience (known for forestry, mining, fishing) “and so I meet many old miners .. I have the have a lot of respect for those guys...” Thus he gives us the more authentic “Coal Mining Blues” which had creamy-dream chocolate vocals slathered in deep molasses. The voice here was almost bitter as beaned cocoa and sounded evermore throaty against the delimited Southern style-country blues.
This was a treat of carefully picked n’ bottled tunes, personal songs about little pains and great triumphs, all presented with a voice that was selflessly given and totally lovable.