Pittsfield native to debut latest album at The Hall

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PITTSFIELD — City native and award-winning musician Matt Cusson will debut his latest album in The Hall at Hotel on North tonight, and he suggests you come for the music, but stay for the stories.

The self-produced, 14-track recording, titled "Only Human," is a new album filled with old songs that have been haunting his repertoire for as long as 12 years; he had just never polished them to put down on a disc.

"I had 14 tunes I needed to get out," Cusson told The Eagle in a recent interview at the city's Cafe Namaste. "It's a publicist's nightmare because it's all over the place — jazz, pop, even bluegrass — but I love all different kinds of songs and music, so I wrote a bunch of different songs."

He's also experienced a lot in life, so he has many stories to tell in addition to songs to sing.

Cusson and his music career have traveled across the state, from Berkshire Community College to Boston's Berklee College of Music, across the country and around the world as he toured through the 2000s with pop star Christina Aguilera, his mentor and R&B icon Brian McKnight, and enjoyed gigs with many others, from James Taylor to Stevie Wonder.

But along with these highlights, his latest record also reflects his trials, from deep depression to drinking to dealing with life changes.

One song off the new album, he said, that seems to deeply resonate with some audience members is a tune called "Who Like Me," a reflection from when he was hospitalized during a particularly dark time.

He sings: "Who like me wants some sanity, and a reason to break from the storm? Who like me needs some clarity and a chance to be reborn?"

"This is the most honest album I've ever made," Cusson said.

He also promises a light side to his work and a few upbeat tunes about love.

Cusson met his wife of nearly five years now, model-actress Lisa Lakatos, while living and working in Los Angeles. The couple has since returned to the East Coast, where Cusson has been working to bring his career to a new level — easier said than done.

"I started to say 'yes' for everything," he said. That includes producing, playing backup instruments or providing back-up vocals for other artists, learning to mix and engineer sound, and learning how to arrange and read different kinds of music, among other things. Last fall, he even tried his hand with a professional arrangement of "The Christmas Song" for Broadway's Megan Hilty to perform during the "A Company Christmas at Pops" gala with the Boston Pops orchestra. (He called it "the dopest thing" to-date that's been accomplished on his career bucket list.)

"It's a constant hustle, but now I'm just as comfortable playing in a Starbucks-sized venue as I am at Madison Square Garden," Cusson said. "As James Taylor says, 'Music is blue-collar work.' "

Fortunately, because of his work ethic, talent and connections, he's one of the lucky few singer-songwriter-instrumentalists who have been able to transcend the age of Auto-Tune and make a living making a less-edited and more collaborative form of music.

"Only Human," for example, includes a cast of more than a dozen musicians and vocalists, some of who will perform live with him tonight at Hotel on North, including Johnny Morrow on bass, Andrew Marsh on drums, Tyrone Chase on guitar, with projections and sound provided by the Berkshires' own Darren O'Brien of Encore Audio.

Guest vocalists on the album include some of his longtime collaborators, including Broadway vocalists Megan Hilty and Shoshana Bean, as well as guitarist Zane Carney. Compared with his first and self-titled album, "Only Human" benefits from compositions made with horn sections (recorded in Atlanta), strings (recorded in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh), even body percussion.

Much of the album, and most of the piano tracks were recorded in a studio he set up at his parents' house in Pittsfield.

"Thursday will be one of the first times we'll be playing songs off the new record. Hearing them live has brought a different experience for me, especially being able to talk with the audience about the songs in between playing them. A lot of the stories were made here," said Cusson.

For example, the fifth track, "Where'd You Go," is a nostalgic reflection of a childhood friend who lived on North Street. In contrast, the seventh track, "Call Me Crazy," bears a catchy Justin Timberlake-like flair that allows Cusson to return to his roots and flex his R&B muscles.

"We're going try to make you dance and also make you cry, but I promise, it's going to be fun," he said.

If you go ...

What: Matt Cusson & Band.

When: Tonight at 7:30 p.m.; doors at 7.

Where: The Hall at Hotel on North, second floor, 297 North St., Pittsfield.

Tickets: $20. Reserve by contacting Kerri McNamara at 413-553-4212 or kerri.mcnamara@hotelonnorth.com

About the artist: mattcusson.com and https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/mattcusson4


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