Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Concert Review: Matt Andersen, Showplace Theatre, Peterborough, Ontario -- Nov. 6, 2011

I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for musicians/singer-songwriters that have the God-given ability to sit in the middle of the stage with no accompaniment except for their own guitar and essentially own the crowd.  It has to be the toughest, most difficult task any performer could choose to endure with only the strong surviving the experience.  However, the superior performers seem to thrive on this challenge.

Such was the case on November 6, 2011 at the Showplace Theatre in Peterborough, Ontario where I had the great fortune to attend the Matt Andersen show.  Recalling the album review piece, Live at the Phoenix Theatre, I was looking forward to an evening of astounding entertainment and musicianship.  When the stage hands come out to set the equipment just right and they’re gone in the span of 30 seconds, leaving only a guitar, an empty guitar stand, a chair, a mike and two monitors behind, it looks very intriguing.  It’s either going to be really good, or it may not work out so well.

Matt Andersen quite clearly and emphatically falls in the former category and is an outstanding musician.  His strong voice and strong song writing make him one of the finest up-and-coming artists in Canada today with a wonderfully bright future ahead of him.  Performing familiar songs from previous releases on Busted Flat Records such as “When My Angel Gets the Blues”, “One Size Never Fits” and signature song “Round and Round”, the Peterborough crowd was treated to a sneak preview of two new songs from his just released Coal Miner’s Blues album.

Recorded at Levon Helm’s studio in Woodstock, New York and produced by Colin Linden, he of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, Coal Miner’s Blues will take Matt’s career to another level.  The title track is so well written and receives such wonderful vocal and instrumental treatment from Matt that it will eventually take its rightful place alongside the other great classics from the east coast of Canada that pay homage to the unbelievably tough occupation of coal-mining.  This song will stand the test of time and is a piece of work that Matt and Colin can be very proud of.

Attending a Matt Andersen concert really is nothing short of spectacular.  While I have talked about his songwriting and vocal abilities, the real highlight of his show is the other-worldly guitar playing of this mountain of a man.  Blues guitar is among the toughest styles of guitar playing there is.  Matt Andersen takes blues guitar to a whole new level that very few musicians could ever dare to reach.  Entirely acoustic, there were many times I thought the strings were going to snap off the instrument from Andersen's furious playing style -- a style that is all his own and it works for Matt flawlessly.  

Simply put, when you attend a Matt Andersen performance you will be sharing space with one of the greatest guitar players of our time.  Matt's fall tour continues this Friday November 18 with two shows this weekend in Halifax, Nova Scotia, followed by performances in St. John and Moncton, New Brunswick.  Visit Matt's web site for more tour dates, purchase CD's and all other things Matt.

Monday, November 14, 2011

CORRECTION: The Civil Wars Concert Review -- Nov. 1, 2011

While no one likes to make mistakes, it is nice when you can catch your own errors and do your best to make them right.

In the November 6, 2011 posting of The Civil Wars concert review at the Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto, Ontario, I erroneously wrote that The Civil Wars performed a cover version of a duet by Faith Hill and Larry Stewart titled "I've Got This Friend."  While that song does appear on Faith Hill's 1995 debut album "Take Me As I Am", the version performed by The Civil Wars during their show is not the same version.  

The Faith Hill/Larry Stewart version was penned by Faith Hill, Bruce Burch and Vern Dant.  While sharing the same title, The Civil Wars version was written by the duo, John Paul White and Joy Williams, and is a vastly separate and different work.

While this posting has been solicited by no one, I felt it was in the best interest to highlight this error and properly acknowledge the artists involved in both pieces of outstanding work.  I regret any confusion this may have caused.

The Civil Wars concert review posting has been edited to reflect the correct version of their performance.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Concert Review: The Civil Wars, Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, Ontario -- November 1, 2011

It’s a great time to be involved in the Americana music scene.  Whether you’re a performer, songwriter, manager, producer, media worker or simply a fan, if you’re following this music scene or involved in some way, you are bearing witness to an incredibly fruitful time in this genre. 

I say this having attended The Civil Wars show this past Tuesday night, November 1, 2011 at The Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto, Ontario.  If you’ll recall the piece written around the Americana Music Association Awards in mid-October, my call for New/Emerging Artist of the Year was The Civil Wars.  The award went to the very deserving Mumford and Sons, but I based my decision on a few factors, first and foremost being talent.  However, I also considered the amount of chatter that surrounded this group before I had the opportunity to see them live.  Now that I have attended a show by The Civil Wars I can honestly say to everyone that if you don’t do it already, believe the hype. 

Both John Paul White and Joy Williams, the duo that comprise The Civil Wars take the stage with great class and elegance.  With their voices and John Paul’s stellar guitar playing as their only instruments, The Civil Wars captivated a nearly sold-out crowd at The Phoenix with song after beautiful song from their debut release “Barton Hollow.”  Very seldom has the world heard two voices come together so beautifully. The Civil Wars are on the verge of something very big and the audience was and is keenly aware of this.

The chemistry that exists between John Paul White and Joy Williams who are married, but not to each other, is palpable.  The playful interaction between the two on “Forget Me Not”, one of the earlier songs in their hour-long set, was very sweet to see.  There is a certain intimacy that takes place on stage between the two that is tough to describe.  One could argue that it’s almost like watching two people making love but not touching each other at all – not physically.  What is clear, is that White and Williams have found in each other their musical soul mate.  By their own admissions, they could not replicate what they do musically on stage in separate solo careers.  What they have is an awe-inspiring, once-in-a-lifetime creative connection.

When I speak of chemistry, it is not limited to just their vocal and stage performance.  One only has to listen to the words of arguably their most famous piece, "Poison and Wine," to acknowledge that they have captured the same chemistry with their writing.  "Poison and Wine" was an incredible highlight among many highlights in this show.  The absolute heartbreak that exists in this song is so real when these two perform this piece live.  The Toronto crowd stood silent, completely mesmerized while White and Williams delivered what can be considered the performance of the night. 

The Civil Wars gave the Toronto crowd a preview of some new music that, my best guess is, will be coming out next year.  “Oh Henry” featured Joy Williams on lead vocal and playing piano, along with White’s guitar.  I found this to be very gratifying as a listener, as this song was a greater example of the musical chemistry these two artists have.  I hope we can look forward to more offerings from The Civil Wars with Joy Williams on piano, as opposed to the limited amount that we heard at The Phoenix on Tuesday. 

Closing out The Civil Wars show was a brilliant cover of a timeless song, and one that was completely unexpected.  The last song anyone would have expected to hear at The Civil Wars I would think would have been “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson.  But they played it, and played it to a tee.  I’m sure Michael would be, and is, thrilled with their version of his song.  This last selection, in my mind, shows the musical diversity that this act brings on stage every night.  It can be pop, rock, folk or straight-ahead country.  Whatever it is, The Civil Wars can take it and make it their own. We can look forward to The Civil Wars being around for a very long time.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the opening act for the evening, Milo Greene.  When speaking of this group of young musicians from Los Angeles, California, John Paul White noted that Milo Greene missed receiving the memo that opening acts “are supposed to suck.”  Of course, this was said in complete jest and was in fact very complimentary, because the one this Milo Greene does not do is suck.  The musicians that make up Milo Greene have such a good time onstage playing such great music, that you can’t help but become a fan.  They are the opening act for The Civil Wars for the rest of the tour.  The Civil Wars have done well to secure such a high-energy, creative and fun group to set the perfect tone for the evening.