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A stage presence not to be denied

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Everything about Matt Andersen is a bit outsized. From his powerful, forthright songs to his strong voice, virtuosic guitar playing and his stage presence.
In performance he commands attention.
Coming off the U.S. leg of a solo tour that brings him to the Kelowna Community Theatre on Sunday, he's on a roll, too. With a new album out, entitled Weightless, produced by roots music legend Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, the Nova Scotia-based songwriter keeps doing what he does best and that's putting on a great show.
"I managed to get to Europe a couple of times and I did Australia at the first of the year," he said as he geared up for this tour, which kicked off in mid-January. "There was lots of back and forth."
There's no denying Andersen is a hard worker as befits his blue-collar roots growing up near Perth-Andover, N.B. Although he now calls the Halifax area home, for the past few years he's kept up a busy schedule that has seen him on the road a lot, playing hundreds of shows to appreciative crowds across North America, Europe and Australia.
Prior to Weightless, he released the narrative-based Coal Mining Blues. Produced by Canadian native Colin Linden and recorded at now-deceased Band drummer Levon Helm's studio in New York State, it brought Andersen to a wider audience not already familiar with his powerful songs and delivery.
This time around, however, Andersen was looking for something different with Weightless and it shifts away from his previous blues-centred writing to a more eclectic approach.
"I was really thrilled (with it)," he said of the CD. "Steve (Berlin) did a great job. It's pretty cool to have someone behind it that has that kind of vision for the music.
"And it's the first time I've done this much co-writing for one album."
According to Andersen, the fact he has been on the road so much meant the bulk of the songs were written just before recording started at Halifax's Sonic Temple Studios.
"We took about a week-and-a-half or two weeks before we went into the studio and all that time I was writing," he said. All 12 songs on Weightless were written with others.
Despite the tight timeline, it all worked out and Andersen credits individuals who helped out, such as Maritime songwriter Joel Plaskett, who lent his touch to two of the songs.
"I wrote with people I really liked and who I think are great writers," Andersen said. "I thought I'd up my game writing with these people and I find if I do too much writing by myself, I just end up sounding like myself."
While many would argue that's not a bad thing, Weightless is Andersen's ninth release since One Size Never Fits, which came out around 2002. The new release shows the maturity of his songwriting and stellar playing set against an uncluttered background under the impeccable direction of Berlin.
The winner of the prestigious International Blues Challenge for top duo/individual in 2010, he's since played everywhere from clubs to concerts and countless festivals, and has shared the stage with the likes of Randy Bachman, Bo Diddley and Little Feat, among others.
Known for his powerful singing as much as his outstanding guitar playing, although he's played with full bands before, a Matt Andersen solo show is just that, a show unto itself.
He hasn't been afraid in the past to put his own stamp on others' songs, covering numbers like the Old Crow Medicine Show/Bob Dylan chestnut Wagon Wheel, John Prine's Angel From Montgomery and the Bill Withers classic, Ain't No Sunshine. However, these days he 's sticking more to his own material, which ultimately offers the listener the greatest rewards, anyhow.
While it's hard to argue with how well he can get a song across with just his voice and guitar, Andersen nonetheless did some unique shows after the release of Coal Mining Blues, playing live with a full orchestra several times.
It's worth checking out his performance of that album's title track with the St. John Symphony from late September of last year on YouTube to see just what a moving performer he can be.
He always wants to get his audience involved in his music and that is something Andersen still emphasizes on his records and especially in his live shows.
Playing solo as he usually does offers him the opportunity to turn his set on a dime and he's able to take full advantage of that, as he did on some European dates in 2013.
"It's been a really great response," he said of that experience. "It was a little weird going to a place where they don't speak any English, or their English is limited … the stage banter got a little awkward when you don't know if they're understanding you, but it was great."
Language barriers aside, if the new material on Weightless is any indication, existing Andersen fans and those who just like a true, honest performer, will be in for a treat when he comes to Kelowna.

QUICKFACTS
Who: Matt Andersen live in concert
Where: Kelowna Community Theatre, 1375 Water St.
When: 8 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 2
Tickets: $40.75 (fees included). Available online at ticketmaster.ca or by calling 855-985-5000
More info: stubbyfingers.ca

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