ALBUM REVIEW: Matt Andersen’s ‘The Big Bottle of Joy’ Lives Up to Its Name
When you name your band and your album The Big Bottle of Joy, roots music fans should expect to be transported, at least for a little while, to a place that will distract them from their troubles and the state of the world. Thankfully, singer-songwriter-producer Matt Andersen understands the assignment, delivering an album that reflects its title.
Thankfully, Andersen knows how to make a joyful noise without succumbing to mawkishness. This is music that spurs elation, songs that reinforce the love of listening and living. The soul-stirring, warm rumble of a Hammond B3 intertwines with gospel-fueled backing vocals and buoyant guitar throughout.
Andersen gathers the Smiths – Hailey, Micah, and Reeny – once again to deliver those backing vocals, and their presence injects every track with just the right amount of infectious excitement. Kim Dunn and Chris Kirby both deftly handle that electrifying B3, keyboards, and accordion. Geoff Arsenault lays down the sturdy backbeat as both Andersen and Cory Tetford wrangle every bit of rock and soul they can out of their guitars. For exhibit A, look no further than “What’s on My Mind,” a plea for getting along even when we don’t see eye-to-eye. “We’re looking in the same direction,” Andersen sings, but “You’re seeing something different than me.” Then comes the revelation: “There’s no need to have all of this tension / It’s alright for us to disagree.” Such observation is needed and welcome, albeit novel, in today’s polarized climate.
The opening rocker, “Let It Slide,” follows this theme, with Andersen accusing some of “throwing stones from your soap box” instead of just letting it go, letting it slide. Pick and choose your battles, he urges. “You must be bored,” he sings. “Not much to do / You sit at home / And bitch about the news.” These lyrics are not delivered as accusatory or preachy, however. They’re pleas for understanding, for finding common ground. Fight for what’s important, but don’t rob yourself of the joy of living while you’re at it.
The remainder of Big Bottle of Joy examines what should be the most of powerful of all motivators, love, in all its nuance and complications; from the excitement of new love (“Golden”) and the good old rock-and-roll tropes of finding-someone-while-on-the-road song (“Aurora”) to the ramblin’-man-but-I-carry-your-photo-with-me raver (“Rollin’ Down the Road”) and the learning-to-love-again soul of “Only an Island.”
Not a note, chord progression, or arrangement on Big Bottle of Joy is there solely to impress in its originality or innovation. Instead, the music reinforces the joy and affirmation the lyrics convey. The familiarity is the point. It’s sound is of comfort and reassurance. Something we all need from time to time.
Matt Andersen’s The Big Bottle of Joy is out March 10.