While Courtney Marie Andrews’ last album, May Your Kindness Remain, cemented her reputation as one of the best singer songwriters around these days, it was her previous disc, Honest Life, a glacial and at times emotionally bare boned performance which had really pointed her out as one to watch. Some of the songs on that album related to the breakup of a relationship and its aftermath. Now, several years later, Andrews returns to that theme as Old Flowers was written after the end of a nine-year relationship she was in. We all know that old adage that break ups are like manna from heaven to the artist’s muse allowing them to pour their heart out in song. True or not, Andrews here towers over the heights achieved on her previous releases.
While she is note perfect in her singing and her writing is as precise as a surgeon’s scalpel, much of the beauty here is in the delivery of the songs. Produced by Andrew Serlo, the album features just three musicians, Andrews herself with Twain’s Matthew Davidson playing bass, celeste, mellotron, pedal steel, piano, pump organ, and wurlitzer and Big Thief’s James Krivchenia on percussion. The trio are outstanding, allowing the album an intimate feel while the arrangements range from classic 1970’s Laurel Canyon moments to more intriguing and beguiling arrangements. Its mood is reflective as Andrews sings about the relationship, her memories, her torn emotions and her loss although there is a sense that there is a new beginning.
The opening Burlap String trumps Neil Young’s recently released lost album as Andrews and her band offer the listener a glorious pedal steel sweetened LA country number which is suffused with nostalgia. The opening and stark piano on Guilty is actually reminiscent of some Neil Young classics with Andrews burrowing deep into her relationship on the most nakedly emotional song on the album. If I Told is the first glimmer of the band’s inventive sonic wonderland as Andrews’ gently scrubbed guitar is accompanied by dappled keyboards and a wash of gentle ambient sounds. Break The Spell is equally captivating in its scintillating and nuanced use of percussion and electronic keyboards while Andrews on piano on How You Got Hurt, with Davidson’s eerie embellishments, sounds at her most vulnerable.
At the heart of the album there are two songs which truly resonate. Carnival Dream is a stark piano ballad with harsh and dramatic percussion as Andrews surveys the wreckage around her. Old Flowers again is piano driven and again it recalls some seventies singer songwriters but here we’d mention the likes of Judee Sill, Laura Nyro and, yes, Joni Mitchell. And talking of Mitchell, the most uplifting song here, Someone Else’s Fault, inherits the spirit of Joni’s For The Roses with its bittersweet evocation of Hollywood. Indeed, in this incredibly moving and ambitious album, Courtney Marie Andrews lives up to the many comparisons to Mitchell which folk have made. It grows in stature on each listen.