Matt Andersen – Big Bottle Of Joy
Sonic Records – 2023
12 tracks; 51 minutes
Canadian Matt Andersen has been producing albums since 2007. He became known as an accomplished solo acoustic guitarist with a powerful voice and won the IBC solo/duo category in 2010, thereby earning a slot on the Blues Cruise. Matt still tours solo but, in recent years, he has diversified his approach and this latest album (his tenth studio effort) offers a large band with strong variety: some blues influences, but particularly Americana and gospel; the band’s name ‘Big Bottle Of Joy’ also serves as the album title. Matt handles lead vocals with Cory Tetford on guitar, Chris Kirby on keys and accordion, Kim Dunn on piano and keys, Mike Farrington Jr. on bass and Geoff Arsenault on drums; a trio of female vocalists add to that gospel feel, Reeny, Micah and Hailey Smith. The album was recorded in Nova Scotia by Lil Thomas, produced by Matt and mastered by Steve Dawson in Nashville. Matt wrote most of the material, with assistance from several co-authors, both from within the band and outside: Carleton Stone, Dave Sampson, Ian James, Andy Stochansky, Cory Tetford, Chris Kirby, Terra Spencer, Ross Neilsen, Clayton Bellamy, Jason Blaine, and Donovan Woods; there are also covers of one song by Terra Spencer, one by Carleton Stone, Breagh MacKinnon and Dylan Guthro (Port Cities) and one by Andrew Cocup, Thomas Findlay (Groove Armada) and Richie Havens.
The album opens with the powerful “Let It Slide”, pulsing guitars, keyboards and the female chorus propel a song that encourages us to live and let live and not to be offended by others’ opinions. “So Low, Solo” describes someone needing a helping hand to get out of a depressed mood, the smooth groove set by the band belying the seriousness of the lyrics, immediately followed by the beautiful “Golden”. Shimmering keys set the mood as Matt sings convincingly about how a new love saved him: “Before you my heart was frozen and I could hardly breathe, but now my whole world is golden”. The band ups the tempo for “How Far Will You Go” which blends a blues riff with gospel-tinged vocals which encourage us to be strong in the face of adversity. The country-tinged “Aurora”, comes from the pen of Terra Spencer and recounts how the singer is looking for a red-haired girl he met at a gig and Terra and Matt co-wrote the cleverly worded “Miss Missing You” about life on the road, missing home and one’s lover, a slow tune really well sung by Matt.
Bandmates Cory and Chris helped Matt write “What’s On My Mind” which opens with the female chorus before the band kicks in with a powerful guitar riff as Matt expresses his determination to write down what he is thinking about, probably the most uptempo tune on the album. Gentle washes of guitar underpin “Keep Holding On”, another ballad with Matt’s vocal wrapped in the female chorus to good effect. As the title suggests “Rollin’ Down The Road” is uptempo, in a country-rock vein before the final three tracks, two of which are covers: “Only An Island” is a song by Port Cities, a slow ballad which again offers the opportunity to appreciate Matt’s excellent voice, well supported by the girls on the chorus; “Hands Of Time” was a collaboration between Groove Armada and the late Richie Havens that appeared in the movie Collateral, a little more uptempo; “Shoes” is a more stripped-back track with acoustic guitar and accordion as Matt sings warmly about dancing “in our little kitchen ballroom”.
Overall this is an enjoyable album with fine vocals and good musicianship but not much by the way of actual blues.