Born: November 19, 1978 Primary Instrument: Vocalist
Go big or go home. That might’ve been Matt Dusk’s mantra as he contemplated the making of his second album, Back in Town.. With impeccable taste to match his formidable talent, Dusk knows that style and sophistication•in everything from song selections and studio choices•are important factors that contribute to successful recordings.
The Toronto-born Matt Dusk will join Patrizio Buanne on his North American AEG Live tour this spring, which coincides with the Decca release of Dusk’s Back in Town on April 3rd. The 27-year-old crooner already had a sensational major-label debut under his belt with 2004’s Two Shots, which was partially recorded at London’s famous Abbey Road Studios with a 42-piece string section from the prestigious Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
With Back in Town Dusk pulled out all the stops. He recorded much of the album in Los Angeles, at the fabled Capitol Studio in Studio A•where the walls have resonated with the voices of singers such as Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin and Ella Fitzgerald. Then, as if that magical setting wasn’t enough, several renowned arrangers including Patrick Williams and Sammy Nestico were brought in to provide original arrangements for classic numbers like “More” and “As Time Goes By.” On top of that, the legendary Al Schmitt, winner of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammy Awards, recorded and mixed all of the album’s big band tracks.
“I wanted this album to have the best of everything,” explains Dusk, who produced Back in Town with Terry Sawchuk. “We approached it like it’s our last big record, with the best arrangers, best musicians and best studios. We didn’t want there to be any regrets or excuses in the future!”
Indeed, Back in Town has all the ingredients to catapult the Juno Award nominated singer well into the pop stratosphere: timeless songs, stylish arrangements, cutting-edge production and powerhouse vocals. Quite simply, Dusk has never sounded better, and it’s the album’s combination of classic and original songs that has clearly brought out the best in him. Along with big-band material, drawn from the American Songbook, Back in Town features such contemporary pop numbers as the inspirational “All About Me” and the forceful title track. Both were given the chart-topping treatment from Chris Lord-Alge; one of the world’s best mixing engineers with credits ranging from Madonna to Green Day.
“Chris has a way of finding these frequencies that make your speakers blow up,” says Dusk. “But his mother was a jazz singer, so he understands that genre too. After I heard Chris’ first mix I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is huge.’ I knew immediately that he’d found the sound both Terry and I were looking for that was radio compatible.”
Several tracks on Back in Town, including “Learnin’ The Blues,” “As Time Goes By” and “The Best is Yet to Come,” are songs associated with Frank Sinatra, but Dusk was adamant about putting a fresh spin on that material. “I didn’t want to perform stock arrangements of those songs,” he says, “…like the classic Nelson Riddle and Billy May charts used for Sinatra. Been there, done that… so why not try something new? I won’t deny that I’m a fan of Sinatra and that I definitely learned from him, but I want to put my own stamp on this genre.”
Working with a full big-band orchestra and strings, plus arrangements from Williams, Nestico and Vince Mendoza, Dusk and Sawchuk took those songs in new directions, from the Latin tinge of “More” to the playful phrasing of “As Time Goes By.” Similarly, “Who’s Got the Action,” once popularized by Dean Martin, gets the big, brassy treatment, while “Get Me to the Church On Time” and “On the Street Where You Live,” two of Dusk’s favorites from My Fair Lady, are nicely updated. Dusk says Nestico’s arrangement for “Get Me to the Church On Time,” in particular, blew him away. “Sammy, who’s best known for his work with Count Basie, sent over his chart with a big yellow post-it note on it saying, ‘This is one of my best charts•please don’t change a thing,’” recalls Dusk. “I was like ‘you’ve got to be kidding•I wouldn’t touch it.’ It was that good.”
Meanwhile, Dusk was able to bring some first-hand experience to “Get Me to the Church On Time”•not that he’s married. “I used to sing at a ton of weddings,” says Dusk, who studied at Toronto’s famed St. Michael’s Choir School before attending the city’s York University taking master classes with Oscar Peterson in the jazz program. “I’d get invited to all the stags and see how the grooms were hell bent on sowing their wild oats and having their last hurrah. So I can totally relate to that scene.”
Although he refrains from divulging many details, Dusk’s personal life has helped to shape both Back in Town and its predecessor. “The songs on Two Shots were more on the sad side because I was going through a rough time at that point in my life,” he explains. “Most of the songs were about lost love and self discovery. On this album, it’s the exact opposite. The majority of these songs are more about finding love, being happy and laughing, because the pendulum’s definitely swingin’ the other way.”
Swinging is one way to describe Back in Town, which puts Dusk firmly back in the pack of young crooners like Michael Bublé and Dusk’s label mate Jamie Cullum. “We’ve all got our own approaches to this genre,” says Dusk, about his colleagues. “Me? I’m not here to change the world. You could say my goal is to bring jazz a little more into the mainstream. But basically, at the end of the day, all I really want to do is entertain people.” With the big, bold and defiantly upbeat Back in Town, Dusk is doing just that.
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