For a guy whose live performance generally involves nothing more than his voice, acoustic guitar, and his personality, Matt Andersen sure knows how to put together a fully-fledged soul sound. Well, with the help of some friends like producer Steve Dawson and horn arranger Jim Hoke, among others.
Halfway Home By Morning may have been recorded in Nashville, but the vibe that mostly comes across is from a couple of hundred miles further south – to wit, Sixties Memphis soul. It’s there right from the outset on ‘What Would Your Mama Say’, where an easy rhythm
|Matt Andersen - simple, soulful, and superb|
Pic courtesy of Scott Doubt
The mood is consolidated on the following ‘Free Man’, with some classy soul horns, swells of organ and funky guitar put together for a more upbeat sound, with some echoes of the beats-orientation on Andersen’s last album, Honest Man. Then he downshifts into ‘Something To Lose’, a country-tinged soul ballad on which he duets with Amy Helm. It’s simple, understated, and yet full of feeling – a feat he repeats later on the later song of love and heartbreak that is ‘Been My Last’
I could give you a track-by-track breakdown – and there are some more highlights I’ll pick out in a mo – but by now you should be catching my drift. Halfway Home By Morning is a delicious concoction that has the rich simplicity of a perfect Italian cappuccino, and goes down as easy. Time and again Andersen taps into the soul motherlode in a way that makes you think, “Surely he’s nicked that bit from some classic”, without ever being able to name it.
So what else have we got? Well, both ‘The Bed I Made’ and ‘Better Than You Want’ sport some bursts of tasty acoustic guitar soloing, bluesy and twanging. The former also features an effortlessly catchy chorus, and is just one example of Andersen’s handy way with a fresh lyric, kicking off with the lines “I should come with a warning, Some kind of label or sign” and taking it from there. Hackneyed wordsmithing just isn’t Andersen’s bag.
‘Long Rider’ manages to blend upbeat Americana leanings with a rising tide of gospel. Triggered by a simple, timeless acoustic refrain, it lays out the yearning for salvation of the road warrior, with another great hook, and more bendy guitar fills from Dawson. ‘Take Me Back’ is almost a companion piece, expressing the desire of the Prodigal Son to return home, his earlier hubris captured in the lines “I left home with all the confidence of a fighter in his prime, Any hand that I was offered I was quick to push aside.”
Picking standouts from this lot is a tall order. But the introspective ‘Give Me Some Light’ is a clear candidate. With its ticking, understated guitar, lush keyboards, seasoning of pedal steel, and deliciously woozy horns, it sounds like some something Springsteen might have handed off to Southside Johnny, without the sweaty intensity perhaps. And that’s before you factor in the sweeping emotional quality of Andersen’s voice, and the gorgeous gospel undertones brought by the McCrary Sisters.
Also on the ballot paper would be the closing ‘Quarter On The Ground (A Song For Uncle Joe)’. Recalling a much-missed uncle who was always dropping by or on the phone, it features halting acoustic guitar backing Andersen’s heartfelt vocal, garnished with the dreamy voices of the McCrary ladies. That’s it – no more required.
If you’re thinking that the songs I haven’t mentioned must be filler, forget it. Every track here is a winner. But trying to dissect all the pleasures on offer here would be doing this album a disservice. Get it. Play it. Play it again. Let it wash over you. Halfway Home By Home is food for the spirit.