There’s a look of Jennifer Jason Leigh about Courtney Marie Andrews tonight, possibly circa the Single White Female period. Although the psychotic behaviour of Leigh’s character in that film is thankfully absent, there is still a steely-eyed intensity about Andrew’s disposition for much of the show. The tracks from her critically acclaimed new album May Your Kindness Remain certainly create a potent narrative around the lack of human connection which the Arizona native claims has blighted her career at times.
Although the record is a melancholy affair on the whole, there is a sense that the downbeat nature of the characters which inhabit it are not completely irredeemable and it is here where the evening starts as Andrews opens the show with album closer ‘Long Road Back To You’. This may seem a bit odd but it’s a slow-burning affair and as far as the structure of this evening’s narrative goes, it’s the perfect way to start the evening.
‘I’ve Hurt Worse’ follows, maintaining the reverse structure of the new album, further reinforcing the generally sanguine nature inside Manchester’s Gorilla venue. Pink roses snake up Courtney’s mic stands suggesting a warm, positive affinity to nature but ‘Two Cold Nights in Buffalo’ couldn’t be further from this concept. ‘A bum searches for shelter, so cold he dreams of hell,’ she sings, sending a chill through the room with her acerbity. Although the themes may be cold, the song is blessed with a delightful musical groove which thoroughly warms the room. It’s a stunning highlight on the record and even more so live. Lyrically perfect and musically engrossing, with emphatic guitar solos and a subtly evocative organ motif running throughout, it really is a gem of song and demonstrates the stunning development in Andrews’ songwriting skills.
Departing from May Your Kindness Remain briefly, ‘Table for One’ reminds us of the qualities of previous record Honest Life. Tender slide guitar compliments Andrews’ country vocals that combine the geographic pitch of Dolly Parton with the subtle complexity of Emmylou Harris, without ever veering towards a parody of either. The tone is downbeat but engrossing. ‘Rough Around the Edges’ is anything but and once again demonstrates the control and range of Andrews’ impressive vocals which she delivers with captivating ease.
The new record is essentially a gospel one at its core and this wouldn’t be possible without an accomplished keyboard player. Courtney Marie Andrews appears to have found one, adding the boogie to ‘How Quickly Your Heart Mends’ and rhythmic dread on the scorching ‘Border’, which Andrews introduces as a song about an atrocious sheriff. These songs really do present us with a vision of a disjointed United States of America that is ever more contemporaneous. ‘Took You Up’ is a gloriously downbeat composition with a Beat aesthetic, once again presenting a vision of the American Dream gone awry and this is the attraction of the americana/alt-country genre which this twenty-seven year old musician inhabits; the track is a wonderfully evocative lament punctuated by a volatile musicality which the Manchester crowd are completely captivated by. It may be bleak but there is a power in its presentation tonight that thrills.
With the main job of presenting the new material complete, the encore sees Andrews tone down the required intensity a few notches; the tender ‘Let the Good One Go’ is followed by the more spirited ‘Irene’ before she really lets her hair down on the thrilling cover of Little Feat’s ‘Willin”. If her new record does not convince folk about Courtney Marie Andrews’ credentials as one of America’s finest singer-songwriters, then this evening’s performance most certainly will have done the job.
MAY YOUR KINDNESS REMAIN IS OUT NOW.
Images: Iain Fox