Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
athy Mattea played professor for most of the week, teaching students at the Berklee College of Music the finer points of being a musician. But the country veteran move beyond the classroom to the stage for a clinic in how to perform as well with a slew of students helping her.
Mattea appeared as a teacher at the music school as an artist-in-residence, which includes a concert with students.
Mattea, once again, proved to be a warm performer. "Warm" as in her voice along with stage presence. "I hope you have as much fun with this music as I did," she said early on, with many of her comments geared to the students assembled in the crowd of about 335.
The West Virginian is one of a long line of singers, whose star used to be brighter, but that did not mean her abilities were any worse for wear. In 2008, for example, she released the thematic "Coal" CD, one of her best.
Mattea started off with the chugging, sometimes playful, 455 Rocket with the song kicking into high gear, before turning to Jean Ritchie's The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore from "Coal."
Mattea's voice retains its vibrancy with the soulful quality often coming through. Mattea breathed life (and the sense of love and aging) in her husband Jon Vezner's Where've You Been which she referred to as her signature song. Mattea said she considered herself lucky not only to have a hit song, but one she loved to sing at every show.
The Berklee students (aided by one professor and her long-time acoustic guitar sidekick Bill Cooley) came through as well time and again for Mattea. Having bluegrasser Sierra Hull playing one of the mandolin parts certainly helped, but she was not alone in providing quality musicianship. A sextet of backing singers proved especially beneficial.
Mattea clearly was quite happy to be at Berklee with the concert being the dessert for her week. She gave a s shout out to the school simply for existing, saying she had to find her way musically when she was growing up.
The students certainly could have learned a lot from Mattea because, as usual, she gave a fun, lively and engaging outing.
Hull, in her final year as a Berklee student, preceded Mattea with her Highway 111 band. This was a big week for Hull because she released her second album for Rounder, "Daybreak," on Tuesday. Hull, who excels on mandolin, made the most of her 30 minutes showcasing some of the new CD.
Hull also was helped by acoustic guitarist Ron Block, who spends most of his time as a member of Alison Krauss' Union Station.
Hull appeared more confident as a performer and singer and set the table for Mattea, who was right. This was a fun night.