WASHINGTON, May 13, 2013 —Matt Costa typically gets classified as a singer/songwriter. But actually, h has more in common with the ‘60s and ‘70s pop music than just the normal, acoustic instrument playing, stripped down, crooning, and confessional singer/songwriter one might expect. Instead he’s a pop music solo artist who brings a band along with him to fill out the sound when he performs live, as he did here recently at the U Street Music Hall.
Taking a step back it’s easy to group singer/songwriters all together in a single category. For the most part they sound remarkably similar, the only real difference being the tone of their voices and vocals. This can change somewhat when a given musician chooses to add some extra flair to what he’s playing. But for the most part, it’s hard to really distinguish one singer/songwriter from another.
This has nothing to do with the quality of singer/songwriters as a group. Most of them are quite talented, and while they play within the confines of the genre specs, they are quite good at what they do, creating in the process live shows that are greatly enjoyable for people who attend them – and they’re usually attended quite well.
By the time they go on tour, get signed by a label, and attract a large number of fans, they’ve usually managed to work out the kinks in their sound output. This mellower, more folksy sound is able to connect with their audience on a fairly deep level. Those who become their fans remain longtime fans because they appreciate each artists’ unique effect. But that doesn’t generally mean these fans embrace the entire genre. In fact, they are likely to shy away from similar artists because the personal feeling just the same or isn’t there at all. It’s a phenomenon that’s unique to this genre.
Still there are singer/songwriters who get added to the genre without being of it. And this essentially where Matt Costa fits in. In his recent appearance here, what he ended up playing felt almost like a throwback night at U Street Music Hall.
Clearly, it’s both unfair and refreshing to say Matt Costa doesn’t check off the usual boxes associated with the singer/songwriter sect. His lyrical style certainly fills the same space as the traditional singer/songwriter, who carries his heart on his sleeve, and whose lyrics tend toward the explicitly confessional. This style hits a certain set of emotions right on the nose, and it’s the conviction of the artist that really sells the content.
Most singer/songwriters seem to put together their sets and accompaniment for the primary purpose of enhancing whatever emotion – usually melancholy – is most likely to connect with their audience. This is where Costa most obviously departs from the norm of the genre. While he doesn’t chart new territory specifically, it’s a change of pace when it comes to trying to pigeonhole him into the usual singer/songwriter mode.
Matt Costa blends several different pop styles from various past decades into his sound, weaving them all into a modern garage pop/rock package. The sound he prefers is mostly a bright and sunny pop that borrows elements from British Invasion-era rockers and the late ‘60s flavor of the Beach Boys. Most of Costa’s songs also borrow a heavy helping of ‘80s British guitar pop, which adds a good bit of texture to his sound.
The stripped down approach Costa brings to his live performance adds to the appeal of his pop melodies. He avoids falling into a kind of “manufactured sound,” like someone who’s simply trying to appropriate popular sounds of the past instead of build on them.
But here’s where Costa kind of brings things full circle, at least to an extent. Some musicians might come off as phony and insincere when trying to incorporate these different influences. But Costa brings the core value of a singer/songwriter’s earnestness to his songs, serving to bring out the heart and soul of his carefully thought out selections.
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