Courtney Marie Andrews – May Your Kindness Remain
Loose – 23 March 2018
Winner of International Artist of the Year at the 2018 UK Americana Awards (reviewed here), there’s a popular perception that Phoenix-born Andrews is something of an overnight sensation. In fact, her 2016 (2017 in the UK) breakthrough album, Honest Life, was actually her sixth (seventh if you include the Leuven Letters mini-album), having started out performing back when she was 15 and spending a couple of years as the touring keyboards player and backing vocalist for Jimmy Eat World as well as appearing on their 2010 album Invented before joining Damien Jurado’s band as guitarist.
She made her recording debut back in 2008 with Urban Myths, which, along with Painters Hands and a Seventh Son and For One I Knew, released in the subsequent two years, is no longer available. However, it was with Honest Life that she really came to prominence, racking up glowing reviews and awards alike, which, inevitably means anticipation for the follow-up is huge.
From the moment she starts singing on the slow waltzing, gospel-tinged (that’ll be CC White on backing) title track opener, her achingly yearning vocals counterpointed by organ and Wurlitzer by, respectively, Daniel Walker and Charles Wicklander, there’s no doubt that expectations have been met and surpassed, Dillon Warnek blowing up an electric guitar storm midway and Andrews’ vibrato soaring in the final moments.
She talks about the album, which was mostly written on the road, as both an introspective reflection on her childhood, her family and growing up but also a connection to those struggling with similar issues, in particular, seeking to define themselves in an America where you’re measured by the success you achieve and the psychological fallout this can bring in terms of depression and mental instability.
Indeed, loneliness and the need to find the inner spark to dispel the darkness bedrocks the lilting, keeningly sung Lift The Lonely From My Heart with its folk colours and plangent guitar. It may be me, but I’d swear I can hear Everly Brothers influences in there.
However, the overall mood is one of defiance not to succumb, empathy with others and finding value in the things that matter. The title track reminds how, as Lennon and McCartney put it, money can’t buy you love, or at least not true love and happiness, and that a good heart is the gift that keeps on giving. It’s a theme to which she returns later on the more country rock but equally muscular and full-blooded Kindness of Strangers, White joined on backing vocals by Annie Jantzer and Kara Hesse, as Andrews sings about losing touch with yourself and your emotions and of those who, even if they’re not friends or family, pull you through when you’re lost and alone.
A similar idea underpins Took You Up, a soulful country ballad with deep resonant piano notes and shimmering percussion that speaks of how, for all its ups and downs, it’s love and making do (“Karaoke on a Monday night, television when we want to hide, frozen dinners when money’s tight”) that proves enough when there’s nothing else to offer.
Likewise, on the soulful slow 6/8 waltz This House the description of its shortcomings (“the faucet might leak, the staircase might creak, the heater takes a while to kick in”) serve as both physical description and relationship metaphor, the place both a house and a home, filled with laughter and love and an open ma casa, su casa invitation if you’re in town, in need of a bed or just a coffee.
One of only two actual road songs, Two Cold Nights In Buffalo strikes a bluesier note, its funky southern groove doubtless reflecting the inclusion of Little Feat on her recent listening playlist, but The Band are in there too. Rough Round The Edges shifts the focus to piano for a take me as I am number that offers a perfect companion piece to Caroline Spence’s similarly-styled Southern Accident, albeit here with a side order of mental exhaustion.
Introspection takes a back seat with Border, a gutsy mid-tempo organ-led blues that turns its attention to the struggles of, specifically Mexican immigrants, looking to find any sort of work to support their family that sports the striking line about how “you cannot measure a man until you’ve been down the deepest well.”
The album closes in resilient mood, first with the sarcastic I’ve Hurt Worse, a folksy number about still finding affection for a self-absorbed, thoughtless lover (though I guess you could also read it more negatively as about justifying remaining in an abusive relationship), Then, finally, sung in her distinctive warble, comes the other road song, the six-minute Long Road Back To You, a gospel-infused drive all night, borrow the money for a ticket, make your way home number in the same tradition of The Letter, Radar Love and Homeward Bound.
An album about not drowning alone in the swamp of depression and resignation, about the importance of having others in your life and of being an ‘other’ to someone else, and how, in a world of increasing alienation, no act of kindness is ever wasted, As Otis said, try a little tenderness.
COURTNEY MARIE ANDREWS EUROPEAN TOUR DATES
April 12—Copenhagen, Denmark—Vega
April 13—Berlin, Germany—Privatclub
April 14—Amsterdam, Netherlands—Bitterzoet
April 15—Cologne, Germany—Studio 672
April 16—Brussels, Belgium—AB Club
April 18—Leeds, U.K.—Brudenell Social Club
April 19—Edinburgh, U.K.—Summer Hall
April 20—Dublin, Ireland—Whelan’s
April 21—Liverpool, U.K.—Arts Club
April 22—Manchester, U.K.—Gorilla
April 23—Brighton, U.K.—Komedia
April 24—London, U.K.—Islington Assembly Hall
April 26—Paris, FR—Petit Bain