On the title track of his new LP, Honest Man, Matt Andersen sings: "Am I mountain, or a grain of sand?" That line, oddly enough, encapsulates the bewilderment of his biggest fans; many of those Americana diehards can't understand why the Maritimes' most raucous performer has had such slow-burning success when he should be exploding.
Honest Man could very well change that. Its high point, "The Gift," is the rarest sort of tune: slickly executed enough to make it a radio hit, but also authentically raw enough to keep alt-country diehards humming along. Its underpinning organ notes are smooth and beguiling even if, admittedly, its "You are special" verses (yes, he really does sing that) will illicit eye rolls from all-too-hip alt-folk purists. Still, no one can deny the conviction with which Andersen sings his lyrics — especially his full-throated delivery on the chorus of highlight "The Gift."
His stunning voice contains obvious traces of delta blues, but also the bawdy swagger of Stax and Motown, and his backing band complement it with gloriously peppy horn playing on "Honest Man," "Last Surrender" and "Let's Get Back" (the later throws in ambling banjo playing for a truly unique combination). Equally impressive is the fluttering flute playing on closing track "One Good Song," which manages to be somehow both jazzy and folky. That tune's chorus, about giving it "all away, from the edge of the stage," is deeply moving — as fans will know, it's the ethos, the mantra, of Atlantic Canada's most famously impassioned Americana performer.
That's the best part of all about Honest Man: As great as this album sounds, it'll surely pale in comparison to the live renditions, just like every LP he has ever recorded. Andersen's bound to attract more fans with this release, his most assured to date. Those who go to his subsequent shows will turn his devoted Americana cult following into a crossover contingent, one that might finally be big enough for such an undeniable talent. (True North)