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Songwriter embraces other voices

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'We should totally write a song together."

It's a promise singer/songwriters love to make to each other -- usually backstage at music festivals -- that's seldom made good on.

Unless, of course, you're talking about Matt Andersen. Now there's a guy with follow-through.

The acclaimed East Coast performer co-wrote every song on his latest album, Weightless, with a host of Canadian songwriting luminaries including Joel Plaskett, Suzie Vinnick, Tom Wilson, David Myles, Dave Gunning and Ryan Hupman.

"I didn't want the album to sound like myself too much," he says with a laugh. "I didn't want to get too into my own head."

Getting out of his own head -- and out of his comfort zone -- were just two of the benefits of collaboration. He also picked up a few songwriting tricks along the way.

"It was neat to see other people's processes and their specific sounds," he says. "Joel, for example, has these turns of phrase and knack for hooks that's totally unique to him. Dave Gunning is a great storyteller. With Tom, you almost need to step out of the way. He just keeps writing."

Weightless has a strong blue-collar bent, no surprise considering Andersen's working-class roots growing up in Perth-Andover, N.B. Alberta Gold, co-written with Gunning, tells the familiar story of Maritimers heading west to work in the oilpatch, while City of Dreams -- written by Steeltown native Wilson -- is an ode to the folks making ends meet in Detroit, one of the U.S. cities hardest hit by the financial crisis of 2008.

Other songs, such as My Last Day, a co-write with Plaskett, are more directly personal. "The East Coast took a big hit last year, losing Rita MacNeil and Stompin' Tom Connors," he says. "That got me thinking about what I'd do with my last day." It's a poignant reminder of what's really important in life.

Helmed by Grammy-winning producer Steve Berlin, Weightless was recorded almost entirely live off the floor at the Sonic Temple in Halifax.

"I didn't put a whole lot of thought into pre-production," Andersen says, opting instead to just let the album evolve in the studio. "It was a fun way to do it."

Although Andersen is a celebrated blues guitarist -- his cover of Bill Withers' Ain't No Sunshine has over 855,000 views on YouTube, and he's won a fistful of national and international blues awards -- Andersen wanted to let the songwriting shine, which is why extended guitar solos are absent from the record.

Besides, Andersen's blues designation is a bit of misnomer.

"I've always loved the blues, but I don't think I've ever made a blues album. I'd never stand next to B.B. King and say I play the blues. It's part of what I do but it's not the whole thing."

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 11, 2014 D3

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