ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
March 18 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust
In preparation for this week's piece, I returned to Courtney Marie Andrews' 2016 Honest Life (reissued in 2017 on Mama Bird Records). It's a frequently gorgeous collection of folk and country originals, and in my review I compared her music and her hair to Joni Mitchell: She stares out from the cover ... 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 most recently from Washington state, having just finished some work as a guitarist with Damien Jurado.
Courtney Marie Andrews has ventured far from Washington since then, embraced by fans and critics, many of whom "aren't usually fans of her kind of music". Her victory lap finished with a Best International Artist recognition at the recent UK Americana Awards. Advance for her new collection, May Your Kindness Remain (Mama Bird/Fat Possum, March 23) has built on that growing murmur, promising a good loud buzz before too long.
You're a good woman and a good friend / You got a good heart, even when it's busted and bent / Lipstick and perfume, underground queen / Wearing loneliness like a costume for the whole world to see.
Once again, Andrews writes as though she's eavesdropping from a corner table at a diner in Middle America, USA. Sometimes the voice that echoes through these songs is her own, but more often it is that of the folks who scratch and claw and grasp to remain atop it all. "Lift the Lonely From My Heart" portrays a struggle that takes the form of self-doubt or self-imposed isolation. A woman asks, Can you still see the good inside me / Or do you see a shell of who I was. Even on ballads, arrangements tend to be fuller, electric guitars are fuzzed and backing vocals are Trio-worthy. Where earlier songs might favor trappings from 70s folk, a country vibe pervades new songs like "Took You Up", even as there are touches of gospel and soul.
There is nothing pedestrian about Andrews' voice, which has grown from pretty and unique on Honest Life to powerful and moving on these new songs. When her singing soars, she is as strong as she is sweet, as wise as she is wide-eyed. Tracks like "Two Cold Nights in Buffalo" and "I've Hurt Worse" are among the loosest, most forceful songs in her catalog, even allowing for a streak of biting cynicism. From the latter: Being with you is like being alone ... I like when I have to call you a second time / It keeps me wondering if you are mine.
The twin towers of Andrews' new collection are the title cut and "Kindness of Strangers". At a time when decency is hard to find in the public sphere, kindness can be revolutionary, and personal connection can be essential: When you're trying to be tender / But instead you come off cold / When your sweetness surrenders / To the cruelness of this world. The songs on May Your Kindness Remain aren't political in the protest sense of the term. But Andrews does indirectly acknowledge the current state of affairs through these stories. The title track locates some small salvation in the simple wish that we hold fast to that spark of kindness, of humanity, even as our other trappings may fade: If your money runs out / And your good looks fade / May your kindness remain ...
So much new stuff to like on this Episode, though this week's Best Thing Ever might be that Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats collection that we've been fiddling with for several weeks. After a more thorough pass through the full record, it's deeply satisfying. More groove-worthy than goofy. We're also quite taken by Erika Wennerstrom's turn towards the light. Where her material with Heartless Bastards could be dark and muddy (wonderfully so), her first solo album posits a more open sound, even as it rocks just as capably.
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "Sweet as John Hurt" Haw (Paradise of Bachelors, 130
- Brent Cobb, "King of Alabama" Providence Canyon (Elektra, 18)
- Horse Feathers, "Without Applause" Appreciation (Kill Rock Stars, 18)
- Deer Tick, "Smith Hill 2018" single (Partisan, 18) D
- Neko Case, "Hell-on" Hell-on (Anti, 18)
- Ruby Boots, "Infatuation" Don't Talk About It (Bloodshot, 18)
- Andrew Bryant, "Practical Man" Ain't it Like the Cosmos (Last Chance, 18)
- Craig Finn, "Galveston" single (Bad Timing, 18) D
- Erika Wennerstrom, "Letting Go" Sweet Unknown (Partisan, 18)
- Tallest Man on Earth, "An Ocean" single (Rivers/Birds, 18) D
^ Courtney Marie Andrews, "Two Cold Nights in Buffalo" May Your Kindness Remain (Mama Bird, 18)
- Buck Meek, "Cannonball" Buck Meek (Keeled Scales, 18) D
- Caitlin Canty, "Onto You" Motel Bouquet (Tone Tree, 18)
- Donovan Woods, "Truck Full of Money" Both Ways (Meant Well, 18)
- Goodnight Texas, "Keep Movin'" Conductor (Cent Back Check, 18) D
- Motel Mirrors, "Things I've Learned" In the Meantime (Last Chance, 18)
- John Paul Keith, "901 Number" Heart Shaped Shadow (Last Chance, 18)
- Matthew Ryan, "I Just Died Like an Aviator" Starlings Unadorned (Ryan, 18)
- Hip Hatchet, "Tacoma Bound" Hold You Like a Harness (HH, 14)
- Lindi Ortega, "You Ain't Foolin' Me" Liberty (Shadowbox, 18)
- Chris Stapleton, "I Want Love" Restoration: Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin (MCA Nashville, 18) D
- Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats, "A Little Honey" Tearing at the Seams (Concord, 18)
- Leon Bridges, "Bad Bad News" Good Thing (Columbia, 18) D
- Parker Millsap, "Fine Line" Other Arrangements (Thirty Tigers, 18)
- 6 String Drag, "Small Town Punks" Top of the World (Schoolkids, 18)
- John Calvin Abney, "Broken Bow" Coyote (JCA, 18)
- Western Centuries, "Own Private Honky Tonk" Songs From the Deluge (Free Dirt, 18)
- Great Peacock, "Miss You Honey" Gran Pavo Real (Ropeadope, 18)
- Audra Mae, "Lightning in a Bottle" Happiest Lamb (SideOneDummy, 10)
- Billy Bragg & Wilco, "Ain'ta Gonna Grieve" Mermaid Ave Vol 3 (Nonesuch, 12)