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Courtney Marie Andrews: Kindness sung in ethereal clarity

March 23, 2018

May Your Kindness Remain is the essence of singer songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews: Honest, authentic, and genuine, all from a woman early in life. I first came across her music at a small Phoenix venue called The Trunk Space on a bill with other locals Tobie Milford and Michelle Blades in 2008. I was struck by her pure vocals and connection to the audience; this real folk/country vibe is only achieved naturally. Now, seasoned by years on the road, Courtney Marie Andrews is set to release her fifth album March 23rd, 2018 via Fat Possum Records.

Following the critical and commercial success of Honest Life, which is largely a road song album, the new release is more about the people that are encountered while touring. Written with focus on the songwriter’s interactions with people along the road, the lyricist climbs to new heights. This may be family, friends, or fans, but they all make an impression–even down to the cover image on the album. Her work speaks to shared humanity. It is this connection that creates the raw emotion for listeners, each finding a real space in which to rest.

Each of the ten songs tells the story of a songstress and her troubadour perspective, bringing truth that is refreshing; this connection is what makes Andrews authentic, a sister you never had. It seems that her life of touring has instilled in this singer a kindness. To lead with a touchstone of such honesty is profound coming from a woman so young. There is also a raw edge, one that oozes strength and grit.

Channeling the likes of Joni Mitchell and Loretta Lynn, Andrews elevates her game on this ten-song assortment of Americana beauty. Elegant and unencumbered by pretense, every note and nuance serves a purpose here. The NPR-featured title track, “May Your Kindness Remain,” opens the record, paving the way based on the album’s central theme. In the angelic tune, Andrews creates a moment, almost churchlike in its flawless beauty. Awe-inspiring, simple arrangements keep the gospel feel perfect. Her vocals are pure, and in that, Andrews has firmly placed herself as one of the new generation of folk/Americana voices.

Recorded over eight days at a rented house-turned-studio in Los Angeles, Andrews is on vocals and electric/acoustic guitar. The album features Dillon Warnek (electric guitar), Daniel Walter (organ, Wurlitzer, accordion), Charles Wicklander (piano, Wurlitzer), William Mapp (drums, percussion), Alex Sabel (bass) and C.C. White (background vocals). It is produced by Mark Howard, whose past credits include Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, and Emmylou Harris, Courtney Marie Andrews has found the key to her soul on May Your Kindness Remain.

“Lift the Lonely From My Heart” is a songbird of country flair. This songs proves that to say this lady is not one of the best songwriters today would be just plain wrong. Musically lush, Wornek gets to shine on this track, bringing a downhome vibe to help paint a landscape with the singer’s vocal. Plaintive emotions soar here, and the instrumentation is stellar.

Great songwriting in the style of the American Songbook, “Two Cold Nights In Buffalo” puts listeners right there on the streets, shivering with the message breaking down the disparity of our country’s blues, mixing up the pace beautifully. She follows this spotlight up with the heartfelt “Rough Around the Edges.” There is an essence of Carole King perfection reached with simple piano from Wicklander. We feel you. Seems we have all been you, hiding from the phone, reality just outside the door.

Shredding in with some wicked Wurlitzer, Charles Wicklander is a standout addition to this incredibly talented ensemble of musicians assembled here for May Your Kindness Remain. That is evident on “Border,” with its funk intro groove that drives the track into a space that provides a place to hang lyrical images from Andrews. The tune is brilliantly guided by Alex Sabel’s bass.

Halfway through this folk masterpiece, it is fair to say one can wonder if it is the journey or the destination. Listeners will agree it is definitely the journey, as “Took You Up” features Warnek’s guitar soaring along the road. It takes each drop of rain to make a rainbow, and Andrews shines a light on every single one on this track with her vocal nuance. Taking it to the next down home message, “This Home” has that backwoods real painted all over it, a homey warmth welcoming everyone in; kickin’ it on the porch under the stars. This is the the sound of Americana dreams.

Bringing it home with the last few cuts, it is safe to say that Courtney Marie Andrews has found the life that she had dreamed of as a girl of sixteen. “Kindness Of Strangers” is that homage to the struggle; it is difficult to be in the position of an artist on the road, and family and friends are the glue that make dreams for someone like Andrews come true. Talent alone does not do it. The lilting “I’ve Hurt Worse” with its harmonica has that goodbye feel which makes this a bit of brilliance in sequencing; a separation has begun. Closing out with “Long Road Back To You” and its slow, purposeful story is an elegant way to say so long. Like the best of what was, this is stylistically the best of May Your Kindness Remain with its tempo, gospel vibe, and feeling of hope. The listener is left with the ethereal clarity of Courtney Marie Andrews’  voice. Make sure and find her on tour as she hits the road in support of May Your Kindness Remain.–Lisa Whealy

August Singles: Acoustic

August 27, 2016

1. “The Devil Bird” – Albert af Ekenstam. An unhurried, expansive acoustic-led song reminiscent of Leif Vollebekk or Gregory Alan Isakov’s work.

2. “The Beast That Rolls Within” – Dietrich Strause. A troubadour’s confident vocals, abstract lyrics, and gently rolling guitar make Strause an artist to watch in the vein of Joe Pug and Josh Ritter. This song is excellent.

3. “I Love Immigration” – This Frontier Needs Heroes. Refocuses the talk of immigration by pointing out that unless you’re a Native American, literally everyone in this country is the relative of an immigrant. As Brad Lauretti and I are both descended from Italian immigrants, I felt a special resonance with this charming, shuffling, upbeat acoustic pop tune with a deeply important message.

4. “Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin” – The Chairman Dances. The finely detailed lyrics of the Mountain Goats paired with indie-pop that has a wider range, from dreamier at one end to more formal and Beatles-esque at the other. But there’s still a great “hey!” thrown in. Always a good yawp, you know. Highly recommended.

5. “A Lonely Road” – Jordan O’Jordan. It’s hard to make rattling banjo chords sound delicate, but O’Jordan’s oh-so-sweet voice tempers the rough edges and creates a warm, immersive song. (Toss-up on the “ahs” section: some people are going to think it’s lovely, and some are going to wonder what just happened. Just so you know.)

6. “Fingers Crossed” – The Marrieds. Bright, clear, female-led acoustic-pop with a little more Americana than the Weepies but not as much as the Civil Wars. It’s remarkably pretty, especially when the strings come in. You could dance to this at a wedding.

7. “Suite pour Justin” – Yves Lambert Trio. Traditional Quebecois folk music includes accordion, fiddle, guitar and percussion, in case you (like me) didn’t know. It sounds sort of like a mix of bluegrass and Zydeco, which is incredibly rad. The rest of the album includes vocals in French; this one’s instrumental. The musical quality is elite, so if you’re an adventurous listener I would highly recommend checking the whole album out.

8. “Generation, Love” – Jon Reynolds. Doo-wop, Beach Boys harmonies, and old-school rock’n’roll vibes come together to be pleasantly, nostalgically retro, while yearning for love instead of hate (a very modern concern).

9. “How Quickly Your Heart Mends” – Courtney Marie Andrews. This woman has the female version of Jason Isbell’s voice. I kid you not: the stress on certain syllables, the swoops in volume, the vocal strain on the fronts of lines…it’s all there. It’s awesome. The songwriting is a great trad-country vibe, but whoa. That voice. Check this out.

10. “Brink of Love (ft. Ladysmith Black Mambazo)” – Vian Izak. While we’re on the topic of love, why not indulge in a adult alternative acoustic tune that includes a hugely famous African choir? (You may know them from Graceland, only one the best albums of all time.)

11. “The Other Side” – VACAY. A romantic folk-pop song with some solid falsetto; a little less Lumineers and a little more adult alternative.

12. “the fall” – Andrea Silva. Somewhere between haunting and lilting, Silva’s vocal performance is an enigmatic, engaging figure over an acoustic guitar.

Videos Videos Videos: Acoustic, etc.

February 12, 2015

Brooklyn Doran’s jazz-standards vibe brings a classy aura to Lake Street Dive-esque charm. The band knows how to hit it and quit it, as Doran and her crew mesmerize in less than two minutes.

Mann Friday are trying to get the booker at Glastonbury to book them by dedicating a video to her. “Say Yeah (Emily Eavis)” might mark the only time that the booker of a festival has been immortalized in song. The acoustic-fronted pop-rock song is pretty great too.

Jen Chapin’s “Gospel” pays homage to historical and current protest movements around the world.

Acoustic fingerpicking; versatile, powerful female vocals; an intimate performance–what more could you ask for? Courtney Marie Andrews is impressive here.

Ryan Culwell’s “Red River” is a desolate, stark, moving tribute to the people and land of South Texas. Shades of Jason Isbell, but for a different people.

As they say on Imgur, “Always upvote Cancellieri.”

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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