The Big Bottle of Joy
4 out of 5 stars
Videos by American Songwriter
Canadian soul/blues singer Matt Andersen is a big guy. And a big guy deserves a big band, which is what he returns with on his first electric album since 2019.
His eight-piece backing unit, appropriately named The Big Bottle of Joy (also the title of this set), adds three backing vocalists to the typical guitar/bass/drums/keyboards lineup. That expands the approach to a more gospel/soul-infused sound which enhances and augments Andersen’s already booming vocal attack.
On studio release number 10, Andersen delivers a dozen examples of why he is one of the most talented and distinctive singers in his roots-oriented genre. From Southern rock stompers like “How Far Will You Go” to mid-tempo gospel-tinged swampers “Aurora” (recounting how the singer is looking for the titular named red-haired girl he had a fling with) and tough, thumping blues rockers “What’s On My Mind”, the singer whips his powerful vocal cords around songs that shift from worthy to wonderful based on his potent vocal prowess.
Even when Andersen downshifts into ballad mode as he does on “Golden,” where he testifies to a lover about how his heart was frozen but now my whole world is golden, the emotion in his approach makes even the most clichéd concepts seem fresh and compelling. And when he unloads on the slow, sensual, soul blues of “Only an Island,” Andersen keeps the lid on, singing with restraint and control Only an island is better alone, as the organ takes us to church.
He digs into a Tulsa Time blues rocking shuffle for “Rollin’ Down the Road,” showing he has absorbed his J.J. Cale albums. The tune spotlights keyboardist Chris Kirby, who pounds out some rollicking New Orleans piano. The gospel-styled backing trio gleams on “Hands of Time,” sparring with him on a retro slice of soulful rock that builds in intensity until a searing guitar solo slices through the mood.
Those who have experienced Andersen live know that his solo work with just an acoustic guitar is as gut-wrenching as anything with a full group. We get a taste of that in the closing “Shoes” where it’s just his voice, unplugged picking, with subtle organ and accordion as he sings about finding balance in a relationship where both participants can’t synch their schedules.
It has been too long since Andersen has displayed his gifts with a full band urging him on. So take a swig from his Big Bottle of Joy as a reminder of how commanding he is fronting a group that pushes and prods him to greatness.
Photo by Robert Georgeff Photography / All Eyes Media