Friday, May 26, 2017

Matt Andersen - The Mash House, Edinburgh, 22 May 2017

The mysterious “It”.  The magic ingredient.  The Factor-that-shall-not-be-named.  Whatever it is, Matt Andersen’s got it.
This genial giant from New Brunswick strolls onstage and sits himself down with his acoustic guitar, and he’s got the crowd on side before he’s even sung a note.  And when he does start singing – well, wow.  As ‘The Gift’, from his latest album Honest Man demonstrates, he’s the owner of a magnificent, versatile voice that can be both mountainous and sensitive.
Matt Andersen - mountainous and sensitive
  Add in some sparkling guitar breaks and effective use of dynamics, and the end result is a mash-up of blues and soulful folk that brings to mind Richie Havens.
‘I Play The Fool For You’ is clearly in blues territory, and features a slide frenzy that eventually collapses into a playful conclusion.  ‘Quiet Company’, on the other hand – his mum’s favourite from Honest Man, he tells us – is beautiful, displaying delicate guitar picking.  ‘Coal Mining Blues’ is gritty and down to earth as it paints a picture of a miner’s tough existence, featuring evocative lines such as “roar of a lion, breath of a mouse”.
Sounds just seem to emerge from the guitar as Andersen’s mitts work their magic, often with a real sense of wit, ‘Round And Round’ featuring what Andersen justly celebrates as “probably the happiest guitar riff I’ll ever write”, and gets all and sundry singing along happily to the chorus.  ‘Have You Got The Blues’, meanwhile, offers up a blizzard of guitar work and a towering vocal ending.
If ‘My Last Day’ has an interesting lyrical theme, with Andersen contemplating what he’d do if the end were nigh, ‘Devil’s Bride’ is a wonderful piece of storytelling, about that married couple you see in the pub who are brewing for a fight all night, until finally the guy explodes – and it has a great tune to match.
Andersen closes the night with a winning rendition of Steve Earle’s ‘My Old Friend The Blues’ that has the audience crooning and even harmonising along with him.  It’s a communal conclusion to a great gig, the kind where songs you’ve never heard before do
indeed seem like old friends.
Reece Hillis - he's in there somewhere
The Mash House isn’t a big venue, but on a Monday night and with limited publicity Matt Andersen attracted a vigorously health turnout.  Some were evidently devotees – Canadian expats, maybe.  Others were evidently newcomers, judging by the healthy business the merchandising desk was doing in CDs once he was done.  I’m betting that however much they’d heard before they came in, they all headed home as fans.
Cowdenbeath resident and 2014 British Blues Award nominee Reece Hillis filled the support slot, and made his own impressive contribution to the night.  Focusing mainly on covers, his default setting is to throw himself into songs with abandon.  So right from the off, with ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’, he goes at it with gusto and a powerful, gutsy voice, behind a curtain of flailing hair,.

It’s crowd pleasing stuff, similarly effective on a medley of ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ and ‘I Hear You Knockin’’, as well as the set-closing, slowed down ‘Shake, Rattle’n’Roll’.  But he’s just as compelling as he coaxes sweet chords out of his 12-string on the classic ‘Sunny’, gets soulful on Leon Bridges’ ‘Smooth Sailing’, and does a nice job on his own, quieter ‘Come On Back’.  Reece Hillis demonstrates that you don’t need a Marshall stack to rock’n’roll.

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