COURTNEY MARIE ANDREWS
May Your Kindness Remain (Fat Possum/Inertia)
Some voices, some music, serve to agitate and aggravate, to prod and provoke. And we need it. Lord knows we need it now more than ever. If you aren’t aggrieved with the state of play (in your town, your state, country, world) right now you aren’t paying attention. Or you’ve been sucked down a MAFS black hole.
Some voices, some music, serve to sooth and offer solace, to be a balm and buffer. And we need it. Lord knows we need it now more than ever. See above.
Courtney Marie Andrews is that balm and buffer; May Your Kindness Remain is both soothing and solace in the face of something that’s bruised - or worse - your faith in not just the stinkhole around you but in yourself.
Her voice - part mature Linda Ronstadt, part Emmylou Harris, and all night-time country – is thick and rich, having come on substantially from the very pretty but far more innocent instrument of her earliest albums, No One’s Slate Is Clean and On My Page. Now it doesn’t do softness so much as the warmth of adult knowledge and the strength of life lived.
Likewise, even more than her hugely impressive Honest Life, from last year, the band around her isn’t pinned to the background but offers a controlled muscularity that is its own strength in the country rock-meets-soul environment.
That doesn’t mean the album skirts the dark or the hard, averting its eyes from anything unpleasant. Not for nothing does Andrews, in the hot and intense southern blues of Border (its organ and guitar bantering like they may well be brothers Allman), say “you can’t measure a man until you’ve been down the deepest well” as she talks about a “water cannon land of the free”.
This isn’t comfortable territory for those basking in their secure homes, their white privilege, their masters of the universe roles, their satisfaction at “achievements” even if the guitar in Two Cold Nights In Buffalo may remind them of their favourite Eagles tracks.
More usefully, if depression has ever crossed your path you’ll understand the back story but also the forward facing nature of many of these songs that don’t shy from the black dog but also look clearly at how you can move away from its worst moments.
It’s hardly coincidence that two songs, the title track (“it’s the gift that keeps giving for the rest of your life”) and the even more gospel rock Kindness Of Strangers, speak of kindness as they remind us that we can’t make it through alone but also that the work really starts internally, that keeping hold of our essential values reaps its greatest reward.
If the contradictions of the powerful I’ve Hurt Worse (loving the bad force in your life as you’re being kicked by it; mixing a Tammy Wynette-ish vocal line with a Daniel Lanois-ish production) refuse to settle for easy paths, Lift The Lonely From My Heart, asks for help unashamedly, and the album ends with Long Road Back To You, a song that is about the journey rather than the destination.
You can read that, and the others, as religious or humanist. It doesn’t really matter, as after all we read into these what we want to read and I suspect Andrews works on the whatever gets you through the night philosophy.
In any case if it’s hymns you want you can get it via songs such as Took You Up, which feels like something from one of Springsteen’s interior albums, earthy but true to itself, or This House, which is closer to latter day Harris, its organ bringing the church, the drums offering the swampier ground outside and her voice bringing a sense of deep knowing.
That’s where the soothing and the buffer come in. Where Courtney Marie Andrews is doing her best work.