If many listeners felt that the spirit of Joni Mitchell hovered around Courtney Marie Andrews‘ hit album of last year, Honest Life, the broader palette of this follow-up should be food for thought. True, Andrews can still evoke Joni’s austere tundra ballads but May Your Kindness Remain is of a richer texture than its predecessor, less inclined to wander a folksy trail, preferring instead to delve into Gospel, soul and country rock. Produced by Andrews and Mark Howard and recorded mostly live in a house in LA the organ work and sinewy guitar recalls The Band at times while Lowell George’s Little Feat surely inform at least one song here. As for muses, this reviewer indeed muses that Aretha Franklin and Laura Nyro may have been on Andrews’ mind when she recorded these songs.
If Honest Life was a set of personal observations then May Your Kindness Remain casts its net somewhat wider as Andrews delves into what she sees as a nationwide malaise with relentless redevelopment, anti immigration forces, opioid dependency causing untold grief while she also inhabits the personal political with some atypical love songs. Above all she continues to sing in a glorious manner while her songs remain elegantly crafted, each one here pitched to perfection with memorable hooks and intriguing melodies and all wrapped up in a warm production somewhat akin to Daniel Lanois’ infamous ambient feel as on Dylan’s Time Out Of Mind.
The album opens with the elemental surge of the title song couched in Gospel tones as it builds in intensity from its reverential opening into a glowering guitar solo and then soaring to the heavens with CC White’s gospel voice adding some heft to Andrews’ voice. Next up is a song which could easily sit within Honest Life, Lift The Lonely Heart, while at the same time it could as easily have featured on Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball. Andrews does recall Emmylou here in her singing while the reverbed guitar and swooning organ are evocative of that album. Lyrically Andrews revisits her lonesome travails of the previous album and altogether the song puts paid to any notions that May Your Kindness Remain is a Judas moment for those who wanted a remake of honest Life. In a similar vein Took You Up is a travelogue come love song, a long distance romance with some glorious guitar work from Andrews while Rough Around The Edges is a stark American version of a kitchen sink drama with a saloon bar like piano adding to the desolation.
There’s so much to savour here as Andrews gets into a chunky country rock vibe on the vividly painted death of the American dream that is Two Cold Nights In Buffalo and then slips into Little Feat territory with her tale of a racist sheriff on Border while This House is a homily to the idea of home redolent of sweet memories with a whiff of both Little House On The Prairie and the white picket fences in David Lynch’s blue Velvet. There’s more country soul on the powerful Kindness Of Strangers, a song written after a musician friend died from an overdose, a song of hope despite despair and then there’s the initially upbeat I’ve Hurt Worse with Andrews listing the reasons she likes her honey which soon dissects the relationship portraying it as bereft of mutual respect leaving her stoically enduring his selfishness.
The album closes on a high note with Long Road Back To You which is stuffed full of American yearnings; a road song, a love song, the romance of Kerouac and all who ride the roads waiting for money wired at gas stations and cheap motels. The song glides along with a soulful feel with CC White again on backing vocals and one imagines that it’s a song which could enter the canon as it sums up a scenario as succinctly as the likes of The Last Picture Show did in film. It’s simply superb and a perfect closer to a sublime album which cements Andrews’ status as a major artist.