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Nathanson says current music is truer reflection

| Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Singer-songwriter Matt Nathanson
Vanguard Records
Singer-songwriter Matt Nathanson

Before he got married, Matt Nathanson had one true love — music.

“Really, I'm a slave to music,” Nathanson says. “Like, music is the only thing in my life that I've ever committed to. It's the only thing that's never let me down.”

So, it's a good thing that, as he continues his career, Nathanson feels he's getting closer to making the kind of music that truly reflects who he is as a songwriter and musician.

He will perform Aug. 20 at the Carnegie Library Music Hall in Munhall.

Nathanson says the biggest step he has taken toward capturing the most honest version of himself has come on his latest album, “The Last of the Great Pretenders.”

Heading into the record, Nathanson realized how he was perceived musically was out of line with how he saw himself.

“To me, there was this sort of soft, soothing thing that people were getting from my music,” he says. “I don't know what it was, but it was just this idea that I was easy listening on a certain level, and I don't listen to easy music. So, I didn't know why it was happening.”

Actually, one of the reasons for that image is fairly clear, and Nathanson recognizes it as well.

Seven studio albums into a career that began in the early 1990s, he had a hit single with “Come on Get Higher.” The spare, largely acoustic romantic ballad from the 2007 album “Some Made Hope” put him in the company of sensitive singer-songwriters like Jason Mraz, Howie Day or Matt Kearney. Nathanson says the success of that song influenced his music for a bit.

“I got validation, and it was like, ‘Oh, this is what you want?' ” he says. “It was not a conscious thing, but in looking back, I think that was how it went.

One step in correcting his course has involved beefing up his sound.

Yes, gentle ballads (“Sky High Honey,” “Heart Starts”) are still present on “The Last of the Great Pretenders.” But the album is as defined by songs that have considerably more heft, such as the edgy piano-based tune, “Earthquake Weather,” the hooky rockers “Annie's Always Waiting (For the Next One to Leave)” and “Birthday Girl.”

An equally big change came on the lyrical front, as Nathanson decided it was time to drop his guard and write music he felt was more honest and open.

“I found that the thread through all of the records that I loved, that changed my life ... the artists really kind of let it all hang out un-selfconsciously,” Nathanson says. “I felt like some of my records, or all of my records before, had a level of guardedness to them, mostly lyrically.

“I made sort of a concerted effort that if (a lyric) made me feel slightly uncomfortable or feel exposed, then I felt like that was the right answer,” he says.

Alan Sculley is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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