ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
August 13, 2016
Concerts. Live music. Secret: I sorta hate 'em. Or perhaps it's just that I resent them. It's been several years since I attended a show. I trace this back to my years as a concert promoter, setting up shows big and small, unplugged coffee houses and festivals. Even then, I would love putting together the season's calendar. It would all be downhill from there. I'd introduce the artist, then find a quiet room and settle up. I'd go back on stage after intermission to introduce the act, then leave to clean up the place. There were few if any artists who were real jerks to me. Richard Buckner and his drummer/girlfriend disappeared shortly before showtime because I didn't provide them with enough beer and they figured there had to be a supermarket closeby ... Most were just in the zone, doing their job to entertain. The only people who struck me as truly, genuinely nice people were Robin & Linda Williams. They played songs by request for my kids during sound check, and seemed really grateful for the work.
These days, I know radio djs who build their show around concert news. Look who's coming to town! Here's a song from them!! Support live music!!! I'll do this on rare occasion, but my broadcasts are 99.8% dictated by my own skewed musical vision, rather than beating someone else's drum. If I've decided to play something, then I find out they'll be touring through, I might make a mention of it, just to have something to say. I'll do the concert calendar thing when an artist takes the stage and encourages fans to listen to my show or read my blog. Gotta be a two way street, right?
Not that I begrudge fans of live music. But to me, it's all about the crush. It's about loud places and drunk people and no place to park. It's about rude people who talk rather than listen, and about rabid, well-meaning fans who sing along with every word. Now that I think about it, the last show I attended was Steve Earle with Alison Moorer. It was a pretty good concert, all-in-all. Steve brought along a drum machine and I wondered how long it would be before Alison was ex number 8. People at the bar talked and carried on as though there were no show. It smelled like beer and weed. Damn I'm getting old ...
No R&B broadcast this week, as the station has (ironically) chosen to air sounds from a local music festival. Hence, no playlist. Next week, we'll be back chasing our elusive muse with new stuff from Artists You Oughta Know like Justin Wells, Chad Remnant, Molly Parden and more.
Not to mention Courtney Marie Andrews. She stares out from the cover of her third record, Honest Life, framed by a fringe of bangs and Joni-straight hair, maybe fresh off a walk along the streets of 1970s Laurel Canyon. There's a bit of that fabled folk-rock spirit in Andrews' voice and in her songs, though she's most recently from Washington state, having just finished some work as a guitarist with Damien Jurado. Songs on Honest Life are the product of a long-ish germination, developed during a period when Andrews had settled into a workaday job in out-of-the-way Washington - you can find sweet acoustic videos for some of the album's songs online from a couple years ago. She calls it a coming of age collection, and several of the songs seem to be written to a younger sister (or a more naive self). From "Irene": You are a magnet Irene / Sometimes good people draw troublesome things. It's a song that can't help but remind me of Joni Mitchell's "Carey". There are few artists to whom female singers are as frequently compared, and even fewer who actually live up to the compliment. While she's coming from a different place musically, Andrews earns the honor. Her voice swoops and dodges on "Irene", Gain some confidence Irene / When you speak let your voice ring out. Like a handful of the songs on Honest Life, it's a song built as much on piano as guitar, bridging the span between singer-songwriter folk and contemporary americana. "Rookie Dreaming" occupies a similar musical territory, an unhurried shuffle in defense of a young life in the making. I was too broke, too shallow to dive deep / Too busy carrying the weight of everything. Even in her youth, Andrews is too wise to make Grant Statements about the lessons she's learned, offering instead an unfinished self-portrait of a woman perched at the brink of experience. Like Samantha Crain, she can do pretty and she can do strong, as well as vulnerable and gritty. "How Quickly Your Heart Mends" is one of the record's more country leaning cuts, boasting one of Andrews' most confidently scathing deliveries: The jukebox is playing a sad country song for all the ugly Americans / Now I feel like one of them / Dancing alone, broken by the freedom. It's a bitter but beautiful piece, with pedal steel providing a fitting honky-tonk setting. What makes Andrews different than your average broken heart is that she's as bitter about her -ex as she is about her own desperate choices. I can't believe I got all dressed up / Put on this dress that you love / Only for you to go and pretend like all those years meant nothing. That pedal steel and self-deprecation carry into "Table For One". It's a road song about a life lived among strangers: Cause I'm a little bit lonely / A little bit stoned / And I'm ready to go home / You don't want to be like me. Courtney Marie Andrews' Honest Life marks another quality release from the proudly independent Mama Bird label out of Portland. As I've mentioned previously, you certainly can't judge a release by its label. Nevertheless, it's a smart choice to pay attention to purveyors of genuinely original stuff like this.