Neil Young has been in the news a lot lately for his opposition to the Alberta tarsands, but not everyone is in a mood to bash the controversial moneymaker. On his new album, Weightless, Matt Andersen has a song cowritten with Dave Gunning called “Alberta Gold” that—in its lyrics about Maritimers heading west for work in the oil patch—favours a less confrontational tack.
“I guess my song takes a bit more of a middle-of-the-road approach,” says Andersen, calling from “somewhere between Denver and Boise” en route to a gig in Seattle. “When Dave and I wrote this song one of our friends was out there working, and it was more of an idea that the workers kind of accepted that it’s the card they’ve been dealt, so they’re making the best of it. They’re out there, they’re making their money, and that’s where their lives are now. So we just took more of that approach to it than saying how bad it was and trying to find the evil side of it.”
Not that Andersen steers away from all “fight the power” issues with his songs. The inspiration for another Weightless track, “The Fight”, comes from environment-related battles that are closer to home for the native of Perth-Andover, New Brunswick.
“I wrote that one with Dave as well,” he explains, “and in New Brunswick right now we’re having a lot of issues with them wanting to bring in the shale-gas thing, and that’s causing a lot of stir at home. And for Dave, where he lives in Pictou [Nova Scotia], there’s a pulp mill that’s dumping a lot of pollutants into the water, and they’re having a big hard time with that too. So that song was just about how some people gotta fight against people who just want to make money.”
Produced by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, Weightless is Andersen’s first album to be released on True North Records, the Canadian indie that’s also home to the likes of Bruce Cockburn, Gordon Lightfoot, and Blackie and the Rodeo Kings. The album is also—apart from a couple of duet releases with harmonica player Mike Stevens—his first to be entirely cowritten. Besides Gunning, Andersen collaborated with Joel Plaskett, Tom Wilson, Keith Mullins, Thom Swift, Suzie Vinnick, Ryan Hopman, and David Myles.
On the gorgeous country ballad “So Easy”—written with Myles, who also opens Andersen’s upcoming Vancouver gig—Neko Case guitarist Paul Rigby steals the show with some exquisite pedal-steel soloing. As far as Andersen’s own, much-lauded fretwork goes, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any extended solos on Weightless. That may come as something of a disappointment to certain folks—me, for instance, since I’m a fan of extended guitar solos.
“I am too!” says Andersen with a laugh, “I am too. We just focused more on the songs and the instrumentation. When we made the album, we didn’t want it to turn into guitar solos on every song. I do that lots when I play live.”