If you’re a fan of the blues, and there are a lot of you out there, then I would humbly suggest that you head over to Somerset Abbey,  98 Main St. in Madison on Friday, April 5, for the triumphant return of Matt & The Barnburners, who are back in Maine after a week down in Memphis as a part of the 2019 International Blues Challenge (the band’s third appearance down in Tennessee at this prestigious gathering).

Here in their home state they perform around 80 shows a year, and with them playing at the Abbey, it seemed only right that I should interview them. To prepare for the chat, guitarist/vocalist Greg Hazard sent a copy of their debut CD “Feel The Heat,” from 2017, and the chat began with a compliment to him about his stellar chops.

Q: How long have you been playing?
Hazard: Oh, wow, I guess about 20 years?

Q: Yeah, that sounds about right — I could tell that this is something you didn’t start doing a couple of years ago, that was certain. Have you spent two decades with this band?
Hazard: No, I’m actually from Philadelphia. I moved to Maine in 2002 and the Barnburners have been together for about 12 years. I’ve been with them about seven.

Q: Where’s the band based?
Hazard: That’s a hard question to answer. Our drummer, Bub Lynch, lives on Orr’s Island, me and Andy (Buckland) and Lindsay (Mower) all live in Farmington, and Matt (Bilodeau) lives in Fayette.

Q: Wait a minute, on the CD there are four of you.
Hazard: There’s five of us now — on the CD we were four and then, shortly after we made that CD we added a young, female saxophone player named Lindsay Mower. We were introduced through a mutual friend and she just added something, changed the sound a little bit — just kind of pushed us in a different direction. She’s been a good addition. We brought her to Memphis with us on our trip and she was a big hit there.

Q: The sax working with the Matt’s harmonica must really sound neat.
Hazard: It is very challenging, actually.

Q: How so?
Hazard: Because the guitar, the harmonica and the sax all take up pretty much the same sonic space, so we have to really be careful, be creative and just try to give each other space. We’re still exploring those boundaries as we speak, you know?

Q: Yeah, I do. Now looking at the CD, it seems you are the principle songwriter.
Hazard: Yeah, I wrote nine of the songs, Matt wrote three and there was one cover tune that we put on just because the song “Bad Habits” was just pretty much Matt’s life’s tale. (Laughter)

Q: Yeah, he seemed to sing it with a lot of conviction, let’s put it that way!
Hazard: (Chuckle) Yeah, I’ll tell you what: that man has lived the blues! (Laughter)

Q: Yeah, you get that impression, that’s for sure. So, do you switch off with him on lead vocals?
Hazard: Live I do more than 90 percent of the vocals — Matt sings about eight to 10 songs a night. It all depends on how many songs we do in a show, sometimes its anywhere from 30 to 40 songs a night.

Q: Have you been a songwriter the whole time you’ve been doing music or is it just since you’ve been in the Barnburners?
Hazard: Some of the songs on the CD date back quite a few years. I mean, “Call Me A Fool” goes back to probably my early 20s, so we’re talking 20 years for that song — and actually one of them was written the day before we recorded it, so it’s all over the place. But, I wouldn’t say that I have been primarily a songwriter, no, my biggest appeal is composing and making arrangements, developing the form of the song and stuff like that — that’s actually where I consider my strengths to be.

Q: One of the aspects of the band I love is the stylistic diversity present, you know what I mean?
Hazard: Yeah, I do. Matt is very much into the old blues stuff. These days I’m tending more that way, too, but I am definitely a bit more diverse than Matt. Bub is just a straight bluesman. He can shuffle, swing and boogie like no other drummer I’ve ever played with — he’s just steeped in that musical language. Andy comes from a completely different dimension, where he’s more into the Allman Brothers/Cream — that kind of blues. So, it’s everything from modern blues to old blues to the more blues/rock-oriented stuff … and now, Lindsay was very much into jazz, and so our sound has taken on a completely new dimension by adding her.

Q: Oh, before I forget it — have you guys ever performed at the Somerset Abbey in Madison?
Hazard: Yes, this will be either our fourth or fifth time. We absolutely love playing there, the people are great and it’s different than playing in a bar. Folks are there for the music. Tom and Stacy just kill themselves to keep the arts in their little neck of the woods by bringing in acts from all around the state. We love being a part of that and we’re just so honored that they’ve asked us back again! We can’t say enough about what Somerset Abbey is doing — it’s just great!

Q: Is there anything, Greg, that you’d like to get across to the folks reading this article?
Hazard: Umm, I guess to me I would just like to thank people who are supporting the arts, supporting live music, specifically the blues because it’s the music I love. Being from Philadelphia I wouldn’t have assumed that Maine would have such a vibrant blues community — it’s a really cool scene up here and I’m honored to be a part of it!

Lucky Clark has spent 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.


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