Matt Andersen The Rivoli, Toronto ON, January 9

Matt Andersen The Rivoli, Toronto ON, January 9
Matt Andersen smiled as he took the tiny Rivoli stage, undaunted by the idea of spending an hour alone with nothing but his guitar and a glass of water. Perhaps he smiled because he was surrounded by friends and well-wishers, or maybe he was about to do what he's been doing, and doing well, since the release of his first full-length, Second Time Around, in 2007. Only now, many are beginning to take notice.

The New Brunswick country and blues-influenced troubadour has been quietly cutting his teeth in bars and clubs throughout Canada and abroad. His signing to True North records and the impending release of new album Weightless may mark the beginning of a new chapter for Andersen, one that could see his classically trained stylings and enthusiastic stage persona reach great new heights.

Opening with "I Lost My Way," the opening track from Weightless, Andersen used his generous frame to command the stage. When he stomped along, he did so enthusiastically enough that he managed to suck the crowd into his good-natured universe.

Andersen at times evoked the image of My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James, with long, untamed curly hair and a scraggly beard to boot. He lost himself easily throughout the numerous extended solos and at times you had to wonder if his locks might get tangled in the overhead stage lighting. The smallish crowd held off their convivial banter during these solos and Andersen, gracious to a fault, seemed genuinely taken aback by the reception to his yet-to-be-released new record.

He slowed the pace of his set with the haunting "Let's Go To Bed," which featured his colossal howl. Then, his powerful voice prevented a handful of underwhelming and traditionally-structured songs from dragging.

Andersen himself claims not to be a bluesman, but his set still contained healthy doses of angst, brought to life with furious and dexterous finger-picking. It's a pity that he doesn't consider himself one; those blues numbers fared much better than when he veered towards the type of plaintive country that seemed destined for pickup truck commercials.

Finishing with one of his self-described "more depressing songs," the late-night sway of "Between The Lines," Andersen was not about to leave the stage without letting the crowd know how genuinely grateful he was for being able to share his new record. The secret was out: his rustic and emotional set ran the gamut of the human condition, but miraculously, Andersen still came out on the other end with a smile on his face.

Read an interview with Matt Andersen here.