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True Canadian blues

Matt Andersen brings soulful fusion of roots, blues and rock ’n’ roll to Whistler on heels of win at International Blues Challenge

Who: Matt Andersen

When: Wednesday, April 14, 8 p.m.

Where: MY Millennium Place

Cost: $22 adults, $19 students & seniors, $16 WAC members

Hailing from a tiny town in New Brunswick, Matt Andersen has a larger-than-life stage presence. Booming vocals and powerful, boot-stomping guitar riffs combine to make him one of the most captivating roots/blues musicians that Canada has ever produced.

Last Friday he headed back out on tour, promoting his latest album, Piggyback , a collaborative project with harmonica virtuoso Mike Stevens.

"We did all those tunes, I think maybe we each had one tune on our own, and then the rest was co-written. We've both been sitting on tunes for a long time, we kind of had lots of ideas bottled up, and that's where it came from and really they're just experiences we've had," he explained.

Andersen always seems to be collaborating with other artists, a process that keeps things fresh for not only the listener, but himself, as well, offering up the opportunity to feed off of others' energy and ideas.

"I really just like working with other people," he said, simply. "...I love doing that kind of stuff, getting new ideas."

Over the span of his musical career, Andersen has released an introductory EP along with two critically-acclaimed collections of live fan favorites, while his full-length studio releases, Second Time Around and Something In-Between , garnered two East Coast Music Awards for Male Solo Artist of the Year and Blues Recording of the Year.

Of course, classic blues and roots tunes aren't always the most upbeat, feel-good songs. And there are definitely some darker, twangy tracks, like Devil's Bride, featured on this new album.

You throw me water when I'm drowning, you take my kingdom when I'm cold, you give me matches when I'm burnin', you give me pennies for my gold. You've got a heart as hard as diamonds, it shines like a piece of coal, buried deep in the ground like your cold, black soul."

"That song," Andersen laughed, "I had the first couple lines for a long time, and then Mike and I sat down and bounced different ideas around about somebody really giving you a hard time."

He pauses, then laughs again.

"It's about a woman, really."

All told, this album actually represents Andersen's live show, true to form.

Andersen spent the fall touring the East Coast with Stevens, went to Memphis to compete in a prestigious music competition, had a few solo shows in Ontario after that, toured with another very talented musician, Wil, for a bit, then took a short break at home before heading out on the road again for a month-long tour. All told, he estimates that he's out on the road roughly 80 per cent of the year.

On top of his typically hectic touring schedule, which sees him performing in almost 200 shows across North America and throughout the UK, Andersen has also shared the stage with legends like David "Honeyboy" Edwards, America, Randy Bachman, the late Bo Diddley and Little Feat.

And 2009-10 has been a very big year for Andersen.

After wrapping up his fourth successful tour of the UK, Andersen got some serious airplay on the BBC and attention from prominent blues and roots publications. Then, in December, he was a guest on CBC's Vinyl Cafe tour, hosted by Stuart Mclean. The appearance on that radio variety show had Andersen playing to capacity crowds in all the major centres between Ottawa and Victoria.

But the real icing on the cake came at the end of January, when he won the 26th annual International Blues Challenge (IBC). The IBC is a respected musical competition that attracts musicians from around the world, including five continents, 12 countries and 39 states. It's also held in what many consider to be the centre of the blues/roots universe: Memphis, Tennessee.

"I shied away from it for a long time, but I'm glad I took part," Andersen said. "It was a pretty amazing experience, especially going to Memphis."

After talking to friends and colleagues, Andersen decided to take part in the competition, not in the hopes of winning, but to soak up the rich history of the area.

"It was really amazing," he recalled. "I went down about three or four days before the competition started and really there wasn't anyone else in town at that point, so I went around and checked out Sun Studios and Stax Records and Graceland and did all that kind of stuff, and it was pretty humbling to think of the amount of music that came out of 10 square miles."

The competitors are chosen by their respective blues societies to represent their region in venues located along the infamous Beale Street. The Harvest Jazz & Blues Festival in Fredericton, New Brunswick sponsored Anderson in the solo/duo category. They weren't disappointed in their hometown hero, who became the first Canadian to ever win the competition.

"We got the vibe from people in Memphis, too, that they just didn't think the blues reached that far," he said.

For his efforts, he walked away with a cash prize, plaque, some large-profile American festival gigs and festivals in France and Italy, plus a slot on the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruises. Basically, he's going to have a chance to really sink his teeth into the international market.

"We can do the club thing and play to 10 people, and hope to get 15 next time, but this way, we'll actually go in and make a bigger splash at once."