Matthew Santos breathes new life into acoustic music

Matthew Santos (Photo by Paul Natkin)
Matthew Santos (Photo by Paul Natkin)

By Jim Hagerty

Staff Writer

Some singer/songwriters may need a tune or two to identify with an audience. A few quiet warm-up numbers often soothe the crowd, creating an atmosphere of anticipation as more gripping songs progress. This formula, while effective much of the time, can also place undue pressure on the artist to ensure he captures his crowd and keeps them interested.

For Matthew Santos, his formula is simple. He walks on stage, picks up his guitar and delivers from the start. Audiences know from the first song, he’s for real and can grab the attention of the most aloof the second he plays his first note.

Santos’ success is certainly not by accident. He started playing piano at age 6 and started playing guitar as a teen. Along the way, he harnessed a talent for visual arts, namely painting. Before long, Santos found a way to champion the ability to mix the ingenious imagery of visual arts with cutting-edge musical chops.

After a stint at  Columbia College in Chicago and  a huge Youtube following, Santos was on his way to becoming one of Chicago’s premier singer/songwriters.

By 2007, it was obvious Chicago was simply a launching pad as Santos found himself supporting Matters of the Bittersweet, an acoustic album as gripping as his live shows. He also added vocals to Lupe Fiasco’s 2007 hit single “Superstar,” which was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2008.

With 12 tracks, Matters of the Bittersweet is far from a laid-down session of a man with a guitar and a few introspective ditties. Each tune breathes with the freshness, timeliness, and staying power acoustic music has been longing for.

Santos delivers with some of the most unique and powerful vocal arrangements ever recorded. While flirting with R&B, jazz, country and straight-up Americana, Santos has the ability to fuse each genre into a tapestry of meanderings that never fall out of place. Imagery abounds as the Minneapolis native inches each note along, covering a figurative canvas with just what’s required for the mind’s eye to find harmony with its auditory counterparts. Simply put: Matthew Santos won’t fade any time soon. He’s got that certain something folk lovers appreciate and other artists wish they had.

Santos is coming off an acoustic set at last weekend’s Greenwich Village Art Fair and electric performance at Kryptonite, which included Rockford native, Graham Burris, bassist in Santos’ five-piece band.

Matters of the Bittersweet is available at and a variety of other retailers.

From the September 23-29, 2009 issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!