There can be no scarier or exciting time in the life of a music fan than the release of the record after a career-setting, iconic release from one of your favorite, and most revered artists. A landmark release so stretches your level of expectation, you begin to convince yourself there’s no way that amount of joy and fulfillment can be attained again, though you hold on to hope that it will. It’s this weird, apprehensive, self-inflicted ice cream headache sensation you give yourself about an impending release that lets you know you really love an artist, so much so that you want to relive those fresh moments of first discovering them, but are worried it’s impossible to ever get back there. That’s the bar Courtney Marie Andrews set with the release of her 2016 effort, Honest Life.
For some songwriters, it’s not just the songs they write, it’s how they make the labor of putting emotions and sentiments to words and music seem so effortless that leaves the listener spellbound. Courtney Marie Andrews exudes that effortlessness, to the point where at 27-years-old, she’s entrenched herself already as the Joni Mitchell, or Carol King, or Linda Ronstadt of our time, not just from the songs she’s turned in, but with the ease in which she does it.
The imagery of the average Courtney Marie Andrews song is so vibrant, it sucks you straight into the story. To her, it’s not always about embellished a song by stoking the imagination through opaque poetry, but breeding mental imagery through incredible insight and specificity. Imagining making love on a pile of laundry, or meeting a boy arriving on a Greyhound is what helps makes the songs and stories of Courtney Marie Andrews seem so real. Only other top-tier songwriters like James McMurtry are able to use references to artifacts and places to put the listener right into the setting of a song like Courtney Marie Andrews does on her newest album, May Your Kindness Remain.
From snowy and decaying Buffalo, New York, to a convenience store in Austin, out to Denver and locations in between, Courtney Marie’s own wanderlust gives her such great insight into location, culture, and character that she then bakes into songs that despite who they’re about specifically, real or fictitious, still seem to be about all of us in one way or another. The world she sings about in May Your Kindness Remain is one of meager means, of dying places and decrepit houses, but finding the beauty beneath the ugliness due to the love that remains untarnished, and a simple appreciation for the act of living. As bad a the news may portray the world to be, it’s still better than not being around to hear it at all, or being alone while it unfurls.
It’s comfortable to call Courtney Marie Andrews folk rock or Americana, and country in the same vein of early Emmylou Harris, or Linda Ronstadt. But the production of May Your Kindness Remain is progressive, with possibly the most distinct texture being the often dissonant lead guitar served with the intention of meeting the emotional memories that the songs look to stir. And it works well in this capacity, though perhaps its prevalence in so many songs is what will mark this album’s most polarizing aspect. In total, this is a slow to mid-tempo affair that may be too ethereal for those who like more red meat in their music. It might have also been nice to have a song or two that was a more acoustic, or some other approach to spice up the production. But the arrangement of May Your Kindness Remain is meant to deal more in ambiance than exactitude, which aides the moodiness of the undertaking.
And though it’s the imagery of “Two Cold Nights in Buffalo” and “This House,” or the message of “May Your Kindness Remain” and “Border” that is what your mind and spirit focus upon as the best parts of this album, you can’t overlook the soaring vocal performances Courtney Marie applies to her words and stories. After all it was as a backup singer that Andrews first received her professional start in music at a very early age, allowing her to refine her craft and study music to make her the high-caliber singer and songwriter she is today.
Being a die-hard music fan so on pins and needles for new releases is often an exercise in being disappointed, if not from efforts, than by your own expectations. But when an artist does deliver to expectations or beyond, the alleviation and joy goes to another level. As Courtney Marie Andrews proves in May Your Kindness Remain, she is not a passing fancy of roots music, she’s a rising star that could prove to be a generational talent, with May Your Kindness Remain being one of those records you return to for years.
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