(SXSW 2018 flavoured!) Album Review: Courtney Marie Andrews – May Your Kindness Remain

By on Thursday, 22nd March 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

CMA album coverAlt-country singer/songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews appeared last week in Austin for SXSW 2018, to preview her forthcoming seventh album ‘May Your Kindness Remain’. Andrews garnered attention in the UK last year with the re-release of ‘Honest Life’, her self-produced sixth record, which drew comparisons to Laurel Canyon-style folk artists like Joni Mitchell. But where ‘Honest Life’ had more of a folk flavour, ‘May Your Kindness Remain’ finds itself firmly in the country category, albeit a more old-school, traditional country sound than you might hear on mainstream radio on either side of the pond.

Recorded in Los Angeles and produced by Mark Howard (Lucinda Williams, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Tom Waits), ‘May Your Kindness Remain’ captures both a well-worn country sensibility and a fresh, modern take on the traditional style, with subtle elements of rock and blues sweetening the mix. Lyrically, the album was inspired by Andrews’ 10 years of life on the road as a touring musician, and it deals with themes that feel at once timeless and conspicuously current. She says:

The people that I’ve met on the road these past few years got me thinking about my childhood, and the people around me that I’ve known, and the stories that come from my family,” Andrews says. “It became clear how many people are struggling through the same issues. People are constantly chasing that bigger life. A lot of people are poor in America—and because of those unattainable goals, they’re also mentally unstable, or sad, or depressed or unfulfilled. A lot of people—myself included at some point in my life—are loving somebody through this. That’s sort of the theme of the record: coming to terms with depression and the reality of the world we’re living in.

Gospel-tinged title track ‘May Your Kindness Remain’ addresses that idea in straighforward fashion, but with an underlying message of optimism. Lyrics like “fortune might buy diamonds, all shiny and new / but it can’t buy you happiness or love, that is true” might seem trite when written on a blank page, but they ultimately ring sincere when couched in Andrews’ simple melodies and her gently yodeling folk-country vocal style. The dynamic growth of her singing voice in the song’s powerful chorus showcases both strength and subtle emotion.

The album’s fundamental optimism is reprised later in the tracklisting with another gospel-laced track ‘Kindness of Strangers’, which celebrates small favours in the face of unrelenting adversity. “People come and people go,” Andrews observes here in a jaded tone, ” . . . you need the kindness to survive”. Standout track ‘Two Cold Nights in Buffalo’ is one of the album’s more spirited moments. Its uptempo country rock underscores a tough tale of hard times on tour with a sense of perseverance and humour. But Andrews also takes the opportunity to muse on the situation’s larger implications: “what happened to the middle class / mom and pop, five and dime? / soon they’ll be knocking it all down / to build that high-rise.”

A handful of well-worn love songs including ‘Rough Around the Edges’ and ‘Took You Up’ pull at the heartstrings with yearning melodies and all-too-familiar lyrical details that feel comfortable even when they aren’t pretty. She easily juxtaposes lofty imagery like “desert sunsets and movie scenes” with the more mundane “frozen dinners when money’s tight / making love on a laundry pile”, finding equal emotional value in both. Andrews’ voice exudes a palpable sense of warmth and welcome in humble ballad ‘This House’, singing “for every rose there’s a weed / but every weed is welcome / this house ain’t much of a house / but it’s a home.”

Near the end of the tracklisting, the dryly ironic tone of ‘I’ve Hurt Worse’ displays a typically country-rock bravado and the emotional subtlety of trying to mask a pain you don’t want to admit to in the first place. “Mother says we love who we think we deserve,” Andrews remarks here in a wry tone, “but I’ve hurt worse.” The album closes with ‘Long Road Back to You’, which underscores the pervasive longing and quiet hope in this collection of songs. The guitar riff between its verses is achingly desperate, while Andrews’ vocal in the yearning refrain is a barely-restrained cry of loneliness. But the return of gospel harmonies in the piano and backing vocals manages to leave behind a prevailing sense of promise.

Courtney Marie Andrews has made her career in music the hard-working, old-fashioned way, and her commitment to the traditional country aesthetic pays off in spades on ‘May Your Kindness Remain’. The album’s beauty lies in its simplicity, which highlights Andrews’ delicate balance of grit and grace. Her rough-around-the-edges vocal style infuses her lyrics with a sense of authenticity, and her dusty, sepia-toned soundscape conveys both steadfast resilience and hard-won hope.

9/10

‘May Your Kindness Remain’ is Courtney Marie Andrews’ seventh studio album and her second release for Mama Bird Recording Co. (America) / Loose Music (UK). The album is due out tomorrow, Friday, the 23rd of March. Stay tuned to TGTF for live coverage of Courtney Marie Andrews at SXSW 2018, to post in the coming days. Our past coverage, including Andrews’ answers to our SXSW 2018 themed Quickfire Questions, is back through here.

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