Country singer-songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews became something of an overnight success in America after her critically-acclaimed breakthrough album Honest Life was released last year. Prior to that, she’d spent over ten years trying to break into the business as a solo artist, ever since she left her home state of Arizona at the age of 16 to go on the road. She has supported over forty other artists as a backing vocalist and guitarist but now she has firmly taken centre-stage as a solo artist, and her sweet and soulful folk sound matures on her second album, May Your Kindness Remain.
The clarity and power of Andrews’s voice is immediately striking on the first track of the album, also titled ‘May Your Kindness Remain’. Her vocals are haunting and ethereal, as she sings mournfully, ‘If your money runs out, if your good looks fade, may your kindness remain’, over gentle, mellifluous guitar chords. The range of her voice is proven as the song takes things up a gear towards the end, building to a powerful, full-throated close. The emotional intensity continues on sweet and poignant second track ‘Lift the Lonely’, with its heart-breakingly honest lyrics reflecting on the feelings of loneliness, and how ultimately it’s something that only you can lift yourself out of. Andrews has revealed that the album is about “coming to terms with depression and the reality of the world we’re living in”, and there is certainly a melancholy side to this album, not only on ‘Lift the Lonely’ but also fourth track ‘Rough Around the Edges’, an apologetic ballad.
However, it’s not all despondency, as there’s a lot of sweetness as well; ultimately, it’s an album about healing, and Andrews strikes a perfect balance between light and dark. The theme of kindness definitely runs throughout, from showing kindness to yourself to the joyful and uplifting ‘Kindness of Strangers’. where Andrews sings optimistically about finding solace in unexpected places, backed by a gospel choir. Finding joy in the everyday is also expressed in ‘This House’, which celebrates the simple pleasures of life’s small, ordinary details. The album was apparently inspired by the people Andrews had met while touring on the road and their kindness, which reminded her of her childhood and her family.
The twangy guitars of ‘Two Cold Nights in Buffalo’ offer the most typical country music sound on the album. Andrews reflects with a strong sense of nostalgia and regret about “that American dream dying”, referring to the less salubrious side of a small American town in the rust belt, with rats in the gutters, neglected neighbourhoods, and cheap motels on the wrong side of the tracks. It’s part love letter to America and part criticism; the America shown here is one of hardship and poverty, a failed American dream. Another snapshot of America appears in the upbeat and jazzy ‘Border’, which almost sounds like it should form part of the soundtrack to a Western movie. Andrews conjures up images of desert roads, coyotes and the land of the free against a steady, marching bassline.
‘Took You Up’ is one of the best ballads on the album, introducing a soft piano and a shimmering guitar which eventually breaks down into fuzzy feedback. Andrews again celebrates the small but important things in life, as she sings, “We ain’t got much but we got each other”. However, the final two tracks of the album seem to let the rest of it down. ‘I’ve Hurt Worse’ comes across as a strange declaration of love to a partner whose behaviour seems to border on abusive, while ‘Long Road Back To You,’ while again featuring beautiful vocals and gentle, dreamlike piano, is also a very long, long track, with the same chorus being repeated for much of the six minutes.
Yet as someone who isn’t normally a fan of folk or country music, I found myself drawn back to this album by the sheer tone and quality of Andrews’s intense, smouldering voice. She’s been compared, not unreasonably, to the likes of Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris and Laura Marling. Andrews definitely seems to be wise beyond her 27 years. All the tracks on May Your Kindness Remain are telling stories about her experiences on the road or in relationships where she passes on the lesson that, at the end of the day, kindness is the thing which really matters.
– Nicole Gadras
Featured image courtesy of D Digital PR.