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If you don't know the blues... there's no point in picking up the guitar and playing rock and roll or any other form of popular music. - Keith Richards

The best performing songwriters, the ones who sound like they really mean what they’re singing about, tend to come from areas known for hard times and hard work.
Those of us who love acoustic guitar can appreciate a great example out of Perth-Andover, a rural blue-collar village in the Canadian Maritime province of New Brunswick. It is the home of singer-songwriter Matt Andersen.

“Perth-Andover’s a really small, family-oriented community,” says Matt. “Everybody knows everybody. My dad’s worked as a logger pretty much his whole life. But there’s always been music around: My grandfather played fiddle, my mom plays piano in church. Most of my cousins have had bands at some point. Whenever there’s a get-together there’s always about nine or ten fiddles or guitars in the room.”

Andersen’s musical household got him interested playing early on and by junior high he was in the school band, first on tuba and later on trumpet. He took up guitar at 14, and before long was playing classic rock and Top 40 covers in pub bands while he studied studio engineering. Things changed dramatically, however, when he discovered the blues.

“Through Eric Clapton I got into B.B. King, which led me to the Chicago electric stuff and eventually back to the Mississippi Delta guys,” says the 30-year-old singer. “What really hit me most about the blues was its total honesty.”
In September 2011, Andersen released Coal Mining Blues. Produced by Colin Linden (who co-wrote and plays on several tunes), the work was recorded at Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock, New York. Mixed in Nashville, it features The Band keyboardist Garth Hudson and Olabelle singer Amy Helm.

The collection is a masterclass in gritty yet exquisitely phrased slide guitar. It presents a rich vein of new songs, many addressing the trying lives of working people: There’s the self-explanatory “Work Hard for the Luxury,” and the moving title track. The latter rings true in mining communities from Cape Breton to Sheffield and West Virginia. But not all of Coal Mining Blues is about hard work. Rollicking up-tempo tunes including “Lay it on the Line” and “Fired Up” add a variety of themes.

Andersen's tales of trials, tribulations and blues possess a more authentic ring than I hear from the average white bluesman. The key to his  success is that he did not merely try to copy the blues. Instead, he used them as a springboard to investigate and express his own personal journey.

Andersen began to build his name on the Canadian circuit. With an imposing voice and slashing slide guitar, he made a powerful impression on audiences. His 2002 debut,  One Size Never Fits, was followed by Solo at Session, and Live at Liberty House.

I emotionally connect with the music of this guitarist, who has appeared with Randy Bachman,  Bo Diddley, Little Feat, America, Loverboy, April Wine, and others. He signed with Busted Flat Records for a string of albums: Second Time Around, Something in Between, and Piggyback (a duo set with harmonica king Mike Stevens) and Live at the Phoenix Theatre.

The Times (UK) called him “Canada’s greatest guitarist.” In 2010 he became the first Canadian to win Memphis’s famed International Blues Challenge, which led to festival dates in France, Italy; and the US, where he toured with the Old Crow Medicine Show.

On Jan. 25 I will have the pleasure of reviewing Andersen's show at the Nampa Civic Center. I'm looking forward to seeing this special musician do what he was born to do.

I wanted to be a blues guitar player. And a singer. And a songwriter. Not a shock jock. - John Mayer

Originally posted to The Book Bear on Tue Dec 25, 2012 at 10:26 AM PST.

Also republished by Rebel Songwriters and In Support of Labor and Unions.

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