Exactly whose song is “Hallelujah”? It was written by Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen but has been covered so many times it might be hard to pick a definitive version. John Cale, the late Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, and k.d. lang have all done fine renditions.
Apparently a whole new generation of listeners re-discovered “Hallelujah” in 2008, when British singer Alexandra Burke’s soulful cover helped her win the top prize on the U.K. version of the televised singing contest, “X Factor,” and the song subsequently topped the British pop charts that December.
Whoever is best known for the song, Hamilton resident Karly Coleman does a terrific “Burke-inspired” version of “Hallelujah.” Check out Coleman on YouTube and you’ll see and hear her do poised, pitch-perfect, and musically solid versions of this and other songs made famous by such pop sensations as Katy Perry, Meghan Trainor, Amy Winehouse, Sia, Cee Lo Green, Adam Lambert, and Adele — in fact, Coleman nails Adele’s “Rollin’ in the Deep.”
For those in the AARP, Coleman also tastefully handles a couple of Eagles songs — “Desperado” and “Take It to the Limit” — and sounds a little like Linda Ronstadt, who had her own hit with the song in 1973.
Coleman, 21, found a musical soulmate in vocalist/guitarist/songwriter and fellow Hamilton resident Mike Matisa, 44, and a longtime fixture on the central New Jersey music scene. For the last few years, the two have been appearing live in various venues throughout the area as an acoustic duo.
Their musical home might be Jo Jo’s Tavern in Hamilton. Matisa and Coleman will be there Saturday, March 28, and again, Saturday, May 9, with special guest Joe Hoyer on lead guitar. Listeners can expect a mix of their interpretation of rock and pop classics with an original song or two.
Fans have caught them at Halo Pub in Hamilton Square and on Saturday, June 13, can look forward to seeing Matisa and Coleman at Halo Pub in Princeton. They recently played the Plumsted Grill in Cream Ridge, too.
The duo seems made for each other and are taking each other’s careers in a new direction, with Matisa and Coleman collaborating on original material, recording and producing in Matisa’s home studio — and Coleman working with internationally renowned songwriter-producer Edgard Jaude. Seems like the sky is the limit.
However, the story of how Matisa and Coleman met is quite down-to-earth — their moms got them together.
“Our moms are friends, and I don’t know how I came up in their conversation,” Coleman says. “They kind of forced us to meet — we were not into it. But my mom told me that Mike was having a gig. I went there, and he pulled up karaoke on his computer. I just had to sing.”
“The conversation between our moms was probably something like, `My kid does music,’ `Oh really, MY kid does music too,’” Matisa says. “It was probably my mom who suggested we get together, and I wanted to hear Karly sing. So she came to my gig and got up and sang, then she started coming to my house to record. Then, in mid-to-late 2012, we started dating steadily, and we have been ever since.”
“I’ll never forget her from that first night when she came up to sing — she came up fearless,” he continues. “She had never sung live before and she was amazing. I thought she had both star quality and a radio-ready voice. My own band was disbanding and we decided to pare things down to a duo, doing a lot of acoustic material. We’ve probably done about 150 shows since that first time.”
On both Matisa’s and Coleman’s websites, you can hear some of their newest original material, and, in fact, they’ve created a video for their composition “Mr. Lonely.” That song features a cool guitar riff Matisa came up with, reminiscent of something by Guns `n’ Roses or Van Halen, just clean, muscular rock. “You’ve Been on My Mind” has more of a contemporary country sound, and Coleman handles both styles with ease.
“`You’ve Been on my Mind’ was the first song we wrote together, and I had imagined a Carrie Underwood-meets-Journey, more of a country flair, but I thought ‘Mr. Lonely’ needed to be more ‘in your face,’” Matisa says. “I came up with the guitar part, drawing on all the stuff from the 1980s that I listened to — Van Halen, AC/DC, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, etc. Karly sings great country, but she really can cover it all. When we do ’80s and ’90s rock, she just goes with it.”
“If I got the chance, I’d love to do country music,” Coleman says.
She lists a few vocal influences, such as Pink, Miley Cyrus, and Carrie Underwood. Older fans might hear traces of Grace Slick, Heart’s Ann Wilson, Melissa Etheridge, and the aforementioned Ronstadt in Coleman’s voice.
Coleman’s recent forays into performing and recording pop and rock are quite a change from her years studying and playing clarinet and violin at Crockett Middle School and Steinert High School. Her father works as a corrections officer, her mom works for the state. Coleman admits her family is not musical, but they’ve always encouraged her natural talents. Coleman says she began to sing in earnest after her mom gave her a toy microphone, and she really took to it.
“By age 12 I could play piano and a little guitar,” she says. “It was through watching YouTube videos that I learned how to play songs. I would watch how they played the piano, and I would mimic this; then a couple years ago I learned how to play chords and now I can just figure things out on my own. As far as guitar goes, I printed out a sheet with basic chords and memorized them. I just like music in general, and I tried to find my own sound.”
Matisa thinks some of his talent runs in the family, as his mother’s father, Joseph Gioscio, was a songwriter in the 1950s. His father, now semi-retired, worked in construction, and his mom was a homemaker, as well as a huge fan of ’70s soft-rock.
“My mom played music around the house constantly — she had hundreds of 45s,” Matisa says. “I got my first KISS album when I was five years old, and that’s when I knew I wanted to be on stage.”
Around age 10, he was also struck by the sound of Benny Mardones’ 1980 hit “Into the Night,” and even at that age, knew he wanted to someday sing and record that song.
“This song and Benny’s voice were the whole reason I wanted to become a singer/songwriter,” Matisa says.
Later in life, that mission was accomplished — you can hear Matisa’s impressive cover on his website www.mikematisa.com. There is also a link to a radio interview where Mardones himself calls in to compliment Matisa, and this connection has opened up a whole new group of fans from around the world.
Prior to meeting Trenton-born guitarist and teacher Ernie White in 1992, and ultimately learning his guitar playing and singing chops from his mentor, Matisa had been involved with music from his school years — deejaying, playing the saxophone and drums.
“I pretty much learned everything I know (about guitar) from Ernie, and I studied with him for about four years,” Matisa says. “But, in less than a year taking lessons, he let me play with him when he did acoustic shows, or else he would let me open up for him. He’s such a great guy, and he does a ton of charities. In fact, Karly and I were in his Christmas show at (the former) Cedar Gardens.”
Matisa has been in the entertainment industry since 1983, starting out as a local DJ for clubs and private parties, moving on to singing and playing guitar, showcasing original and cover material. He has also been involved in booking bands and live performances and once booked talent for Sotto 128, the former restaurant and concert venue on Nassau Street.
In addition to his music career, Matisa works as a project manager for product development for the biometrics company Eye Lock, based in Princeton Junction, with corporate headquarters in Manhattan. An electrical engineer by training, Matisa was studying at Mercer County Community College, then transferred to the College of New Jersey, but left school at age 21 to form a technology start-up.
Coleman is in the midst of getting a degree in entertainment technology from Mercer County Community College and hopes to graduate with an associate’s degree this fall.
“That would be mixing on a sound board, lighting, and whatnot,” she says. “I’d like to use the engineering as a backup but pursue singing first.”
Although they are gifted songwriters, when they perform live Matisa and Coleman put their own material on the backburner. “We tend to keep the original music campaign on-line mostly,” Matisa says. “This way people can choose to listen or not, and it opens up a worldwide fan base, as Karly has seen with her great following on YouTube.”
Among the big steps forward in Coleman’s career, she and Matisa are excited to be working with Jaude, a prodigiously creative producer and composer with numerous credits in contemporary film and television, and thousands of songwriting credits. Jaude, who is based in Robbinsville, is described as a one-man studio genius, akin to the Alan Parsons Project or Mike Oldfield.
“Working with a producer of this caliber, you think you’d have to go to Los Angeles or New York, but he’s almost literally around the corner from me in Robbinsville,” Matisa says. “He was recommended to us by a friend and my goal was originally to just introduce him to Karly. But then he heard her and thought she was great, so we met and talked. Now he’s utilizing her for his songs used in television and film.”
“He’s also writing songs for Karly in particular, and the first song, ‘So Breathless,’ is on her YouTube channel,” Matisa adds.
Produced by Jaude, with words and music by Jaude and Jeff Meeger, it’s a rock/pop crossover, which Jaude hopes to place within a television show or film.
All of which must make Matisa and Coleman’s moms very happy, since they were the forces that brought the twosome together. “Karly’s mom and dad are at most of our shows, her grandmother and 94-year-old aunt comes too,” Matisa says. “We’re seeing more and more people coming to shows just in the last few years. It’s a much different scene from when I started, back when we photocopied fliers, licked stamps, and sent things through snail mail. Now we have thousands of fans through Facebook and YouTube. In fact, we have fans from all over the world, since people can listen to us from anywhere and everywhere.”
About their personal relationship, Matisa says, “It’s one thing to hope to find someone who can tolerate that I’m a musician, but having someone who is there every step of the way (with the music) is something else. We record together every night, we play out live, and it’s worked out great.”
Mike Matisa and Karly Coleman, Jo Jo’s Tavern, 2677 Nottingham Way, Hamilton. Acoustic duo with special guest Joe Hoyer on lead guitar. Saturdays, March 28 and May 9, 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. 609-586-2678. www.jojostavernnj.com. Mike Matisa on the Web: www.mikematisa.com. Karly Coleman on the Web: www.reverbnation.com/karlycoleman.