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The Graham Album Review #2112

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Matt Andersen: House to House

(Independent release, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 4/27/2022)

Soul music has, more or less by definition, been performed with a band, sometimes a big group with horns backing the lead vocalist. The tradition goes back decades, to artists like Ray Charles, and then the great Motown and Memphis soul recordings, which usually originated from a house band of top studio musicians. It’s therefore interesting to take the style out of its usual setting and, say, serve it up in solo acoustic context. At the end of last year, we featured just such an album by Allen Stone, which was both unexpected and outstanding. This week, we have another such acoustic soul album, and it’s also quite satisfying. It’s by Canadian blues and soul performer Matt Andersen, and it bears the title House to House.

Matt Anderson is from New Brunswick, and in 2002 emerged as a member of a band called Flat Top. He has been recording under his own name since 2004, and has been quite prolific, turning out 14 previous albums, including a couple of live releases and a Christmas album. He has toured extensively, and was a winner in 2010 in the solo/duo class at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis.

His new solo album was, in a way, a product of the pandemic restrictions. He and some friends built a home studio and he recorded largely by himself, with some guest backing vocalists brought in. The publicity for the album states that the backup singers were recorded with the main vocal with no overdubbing.

The result is a first-rate album of nice acoustic performances, with most of the songs being written or co-written by Andersen. The style runs from folk to African American Gospel influence to classic-style soul songs. Most of the material consists of love-songs of one sort or another, including some breakup songs, and there are also songs in the Gospel tradition of trying to be uplifting. And there is a cover of the Gospel-soul classic People Get Ready by Curtis Mayfeld. Even in this acoustic setting, Andersen’s hefty vocals keep things soulful.

Leading off is a kind of post-breakup song, Other Side of Goodbye. It epitomizes the album’s strengths. <<>>

Along the same lines lyrically is Lookin’ Back to You but with a musical setting that is more toward the folk side with some nice guitar work by Andersen. <<>>

The Gospel influence comes to the fore on Time for the Wicked to Rest a song by David Francey. The background vocals are supplied by sisters Reeny, Micah, and Mahalia Smith. <<>>

The title song House to House combines a folky musical setting with Gospel style lyrics. <<>>

One of my favorite songs on the album is See This Through a contemplative sounding folk-influenced track with great lyrics about working to maintain a relationship through travails. <<>>

Also with folk setting is Peace of Mind another song with introspective lyrics contemplating trying to make the best of what life deals us. <<>>

Andersen re-does a song from one of his previous albums, giving a solo acoustic treatment to his Coal Mining Blues with lyrics that are a kind of classic folk song about work, but with a contemplative-sounding musical setting.

The album ends with the Curtis Mayfield classic People Get Ready. Anderson and his backing vocalists do the song justice as they take turns on the song’s verses.

The idea of acoustic soul music would seem something of an unlikely combination, but as Allen Stone did late last year, and now on House to House by Matt Anderson, the concept can work really well, given a first-rate singer. The intimacy of the setting can really bring out the content of the songs, stripping everything else away, that underscoring the meaning of soul.

Our grade for sound quality is close to an “A.” The solo acoustic setting is captured well without trying to make it sound like anything else. When the background vocals appear, they do have the quality of being in the room, which is the way they were recorded. But as is so often the case, the recording would have been more honest and involving it there was less volume compression trying to jack up the loudness artificially.

Who would have thought that acoustic soul would have been so engaging. Matt Anderson shows it in a stellar way on his new album House to House.

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