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Loose Future (Fat Possum)

ONE OF THE BEST THINGS about Linda Ronstadt – other than her voice, her voice, her ear for a good song no matter its origins, and, yes, her voice – was how she could sound so at ease, and consequently make the music around her feel as if it too carried the pleasure of simply being.

And by that I don’t mean everything sounding “up”, which is another thing altogether, but rather that in her best recordings it felt as if everything flowed rather than being directed, so that songs happy, urgent, sad, needy or whatever, appeared natural and unbound by anything other than our understanding of that song. (If this sounds like gibberish, just put on one of her records.)

As a latecomer to her for reasons more boring than long to go into (let’s just say territorial teenage boy fans can make stupid decisions), for too long I had airily dismissed this vocal facility in combination with the sheer attractiveness of the voice itself, as falling short of whatever stupid boy fans think of as serious or important. Thankfully I did grow up and Linda Ronstadt albums can be found in second hand stores.

I’ve been giving Ronstadt a bit of thought recently as the new Courtney Marie Andrews album has somewhat stealthily, or at least quietly, been asserting its place in this hectic period of new releases when it might otherwise just disappear in the backwash.

After a series of albums at the more bruised and hoping-to-recover end of country music’s alt. edge, strong on the ballads, questioning of power and willing to bare much, this is the most Ronstadt of records for many reasons. And that can only be a good thing whether you are competing with Taylor Swift, Arctic Monkeys and Genesis Owusu, or not.

Loose Future is an album that feels lighter than Andrews’ previous records, lyrically and musically: more forgiving of herself and nimbler in its settings. More able to create something like Let Her Go which feels simultaneously thick with intent and as gentle as a breeze. And she sounds so good, not a million miles from LR herself, whether at the top of a register in the dancing-on-the-wind Satellite or lower and slightly tremulous in the wanting-to-believe hesitation of Change My Mind.

There is a sense of joy in the blended guitars and the graceful strings of Thinkin’ On You just as much as there is in its Hungry Heart-like drum start, and even as Andrews sings of an empty bed and frying pan, photos no substitute for the real thing, the pleasure in the anticipation of the next time they are face-to-face, makes everything buoyant enough.

Even the almost florid climax of Me & Jerry, that feels like it might run away from her as the voices and instruments spiral ever upwards like some country gospel overload, manages to throw optimism forward. She doesn’t just want to believe; she is going to. It may be a loose one, but it is a future.

Which isn’t to say the breakup and its emotional battering which suffused her last record, the Grammy-nominated Old Flowers, has been magiked away. In the point-and-strum On The Line, a hunched over Andrews compares the way we “cover-up each truth with a void” with the way the couple in the room above her are “having sex with the TV up to drown out the noise”. She has “gotten used to moving on” but yet admits giving her ex “the satisfaction of knowing I still care” even though the calls come only when it’s [their] love on the line”.

But On The Line, just like the more accusatory (and more pedal steel-influenced) You Do What You Want, doesn’t feel weighed down. Some things are going to take a while yet to figure or forgive, or forget, but Andrews is on the way, treading lightly emotionally, musically, vocally.


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