Courtney Marie Andrews. May Your Kindness Remain. Loose Music

a4286792715_16If 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.

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Best of 2017

OK, decorations are coming down, it’s back to work time but before that here’s a short list of the albums that have stood out over the past year. If there’s a link it will take you a review of the album. Looking back it seems that 2017 wasn’t a bad year for music in terms of releases but a total bummer in terms of Tom Petty leaving us. Here’s hoping next year is as good so, all the best for 2018.

Chuck Prophet, Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins

cp18cdIn the year of Brexit and Trump, Chuck’s sheer love of rock’n’roll shone throughout this album. Coupled with seeing him play two blindingly great gigs this year the album’s been a regular on the stereo and in the car while Jesus Was A Social Drinker is my song of the year.

 

Jeremy Pinnell, Ties Of Blood And Affection

e2069a_5277bb38e84c4e118495b89d2105a130mv2While Stapleton gets all the notice I think there are numerous others who are bringing out better albums and Jeremy’s second solo album is the best of the lot this year. I was privileged to host a house concert with Jeremy and Ags Connolly and it was a great occasion.

 

Courtney Marie Andrews, Honest Life

cc752a_ccb74ac415f74324bdde66d0b5f81184mv2An album of glacial purity with glimpses of Joni Mitchell in its shadows.

 

 

GospelbeacH, Another Summer Of Love

500x500Jangled sunny California music which stretches from Petty to The Jam in its inspiration.

 

 

Nathan Bell, Love > Fear (48 hours in Traitorland)

love-fear-front-coverOld fashioned protest perhaps but Bell is a powerful writer and as good a champion of “blue collar” folk as Rod Picott. And, in concert, he’s funny with it (just like Rod Picott).

 

Blue Rose Code. The Water Of Leith

the-water-of-leithRoss Wilson continues his journey into the hinterlands of folk and jazz. A wonderful and evocative album.

 

Eric Ambel, At The Lakeside

61ceyom7fgl-_ss500It took 12 years for Ambel to come up with this one, a bunch of songs he imagined could have been on his pub’s jukebox. Guitar album of the year.

 

Don Antonio, Don Antonio

cs646897-01a-bigAside from his band, Sacri Cuori, Antonio Gramantieri has worked with Howe Gelb, Dan Stewart and Alejandro Escovedo. This solo album is a magnificent retro stew of sixties soundtracks and Italian cool.

 

Jaime Wyatt, Felony Blues

jaime_coverA true jailbird, Wyatt’s album is part outlaw country, part Laurel Canyon country rock. For me she just beats Margo Price

 

Malojian, Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home.

a1294981180_16Irishman Stevie Scullion conjures up a slight psychedelic trip with McCartney like melodies and Harrison’s Blue Jay Way vibes.

 

Best reissue/compilation

The Wynntown Marshals, After All These Years

a2597450969_16A perfect introduction to the band if you haven’t heard them before. A perfect keepsake for those who are in the know.

 

 

Also of note…

Slaid Cleaves, Ghost On the Car Radio

Margo Price, All American Made

Danny & The Champions Of The World, Brilliant Light

Ags Connolly, Nothin’ Unexpected

Robyn Hitchcock, Robyn Hitchcock

Todd Day Wait, Folk-Country-Blues

Whitney Rose, South Texas Suite

Norrie McCulloch, Bare Along The Branches

Russ Tolman. Compass & Map

John Murry, A Short History of Decay

Jim Keaveny, Put It Together

Ian Felice, In The Kingdom Of Dreams

Gill Landry, Love Rides A Dark Horse

Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters

Daniel Meade Shooting Stars & Tiny Tears 

The Sadies, Northern Passages

John Alexander, Of These Lands

There are many others which could/should be mentioned here, apologies to those I’ve either forgotten about or overlooked. In the meantime here’s the song of the year.

 

Rising star Courtney Marie Andrews Discusses Melancholia and “The Crying Machine”

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When Blabber’n’Smoke spoke to Courtney Marie Andrews at the tail end of last year we were awaiting the release of her album Honest Life with the promise of a tour to follow. Four months later and Ms. Andrews is the talk of the town. The album’s been a great success, reaching the number one slot in the Official Americana charts and her performances on her tour with The Handsome Family received critical acclaim. A measure of her success is that she was back in London for a two day stop last week to perform on the BBC’s Later…with Jools Holland, quite a coup for an artist on an independent label given that this show is just about the only televised music show on the Beeb these days.

The day after she recorded her appearance Courtney was gracious enough to talk to Blabber’n’Smoke during a brief coffee break before she set out to perform a short set at Rough Trade West later that afternoon.

 

First off, we should say congratulations to you. The album’s taken off, the tour was a success and finally you get to appear on prime time TV.

Thanks. It’s just been great. I really enjoyed touring with The Handsome Family and loved meeting so many people and then getting on to the show last night was brilliant. They only showed one song last night but we recorded two with Jools playing piano on the second one.

And you were accompanied by BJ Cole on pedal steel, a man who many folk would call a legend.

Yes, he was tremendous. Did you know that he played on Tiny Dancer?

He’s been on so many great records but that’s a great one. I love that scene in Almost Famous when they sing along to it on their tour bus.

Yeah, that’s a classic film.

It’s funny that you mention Tiny Dancer because Bernie Taupin apparently wrote that about his and Elton John’s experiences in California in 1971 and many folk have mentioned how your music reminds them of that time. Just yesterday I saw that you were asked by Albumism to pick a favourite album and you chose The Band’s The Last Waltz. You explain your choice there but I was going to ask you why this period of music talks to you.

Well, although I love classic country songs and singers my influences are mainly in that early seventies sound. The Band took stuff like the blues and old time music and Levon Helm influenced the other guys to write those country type songs. I really think that they were the first “alt country” or Americana band as they were doing this even before Gram Parsons when they sat down and did The Basement Tapes.  And the guys I play with in the band, we all kind of come from that rootsy background that comes across on their records so The Band resonate with me a lot.

Looking back over the past three months it seems you’ve been incredibly busy but you had the time to record a song with Will Oldham, a cover of Nina Simone’s I Wish I Knew How it Is To Be Free.

There’s a project called Our First 100 Days and I wanted to do something with them. I’ve always loved that song and I wanted to do it as a duet and I really like Will Oldham so we called him and he agreed to do it! So the band and I recorded the song and then sent it over to Will and he did his vocals.

So you weren’t together in the studio? I thought that maybe you would have jumped into your old tour bus and searched him out.

That would have been great but we’re too far away from each other for that.

I’m only kidding. I saw the van in the video for Put The Fire Out and it looks really funky but not altogether roadworthy.   Do you really go on the road in that?

Yes, sometimes we do.

Well you need to fix the license plate at the front, it’s falling off

I know, it’s still like that.

In that song, Put The Fire Out you sing that it’s time to let down your hair and have a good time so has this year been fun?

Yes, I’ve been having a lot of fun. It’s been hard work but I’ve been feeling good about it. I’ve been so busy since the beginning of January but when I fly home I have two weeks off.

Some of Honest Life was written in the aftermath of a break up and the album has a somewhat melancholic air about it. In the wake of what’s happened since can we expect the next record to be a happier affair?

I think people will be surprised when the next album comes out, I’ve been writing for it a lot.  I think that I inherently have that melancholia in me regardless but I’m not afraid to explore other emotions. I think it’s important as a songwriter to really go with your feelings and not to stick with just one hyper sad song. Bob Dylan’s written about a wealth of emotions and I really respect it when people can do that so I never put that type of barrier on myself. I hope I can write songs that are not so melancholic but which are still great. I think that if I were to write Honest Life over and over again people would get quite tired of that so it’s important to kind of push yourself.

I was looking at your tour schedule and it looks pretty daunting. Tours of Canada, Australia and New Zealand before you come back to the UK in August and then zoom around Europe.

Well I’ve got a bit of time before I head out again and that will be time to write for the next album but after that I’ll be on tour until the end of the year. I’m really excited to get back to the UK and let folk hear the full band sound and we’re playing again in Glasgow at a place called The Hug & Pint.

Well everyone I know who saw you earlier this year is going to that although it’s such a small venue that once you and the band are on stage there might not be room for the audience. We’re looking forward to the full band experience although your show with Bryan Daste on pedal steel was wonderful. A  Blabber’n’Smoke acquaintance who also plays pedal steel was quite impressed with him and they’re now Facebook buddies.

Yeah, everybody loves the pedal steel and that’s kind of how the pedal steel world works. They have their own little forum where they talk to each other.

One of your label mates on Loose Music, Danny Champ, calls the pedal steel the ironing board of love.

That’s great. I’ve heard so many great terms for it but I call it the crying machine.

And with that we left Courtney to enjoy her coffee before heading off to do her instore show at Rough Trade. You can read a short review of her performance over at Americana UK. In the meantime I’d recommend that if you want to see her later this year to grab your tickets now as it’s unlikely she’ll be performing in such intimate venues again.

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Tour dates

Update: 24/4/17. Due to a huge demand Courtney’s Glasgow show has been moved to a larger venue and she is now appearing at st. Lukes.

 

 

 

 

 

Courtney Marie Andrews and Will Oldham cover “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free”.

Blabber’n’Smoke doesn’t normally post press releases  but this is so good we just had to share it.

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Started in conjunction with Secretly Group and 30 Songs, 30 Days, Our First 100 Days aims to raise funds for organizations supporting causes that are currently under threat by the Trump administration. Today we’re happy to be able to share the new duet from Courtney Marie Andrews and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s Will Oldham. Andrews and Oldham trade vocals on Simone’s civil rights anthem, the hope seeping into every lyric and flourish. You can check it out on Consequence of Sound and head over to Bandcamp for the whole list of artists including and here for information on the project.

Andrews and Oldham had this to say about choosing this specific song to fit our times:

Courtney Marie Andrews says “”I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” is an amazing gospel tune that the incomparable Nina Simone covered and it became an important song for the civil rights movement in the 60s. A lot of these issues are still relevant today and I wanted to sing a song that had a palpable voice for those issues. I’ll never know what it was like to walk the rocky path that Nina did, but her power and unyielding strength was and is something to aspire to. “

“We figured to make a song that would keep folks’ minds, tongues & fingers in motion. James Baldwin: ‘This is not the land of the free. It is only very unwillingly & sporadically the home of the brave.’” – Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy

For more information on 30 Songs, 30 Days, Our First 100 Days see here

The Handsome Family and Courtney Marie Andrews @The Fallen Angels Club. St. Lukes, Glasgow. 23rd February 2017

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It was a welcome return to Glasgow for The Handsome Family and a solo debut performance tonight from fellow Loose Records artist Courtney Marie Andrews, the sold out show proof that even on a storm-ridden weekday there’s an audience for quality music in Glasgow.

Not her first time in Glasgow (she previously was here as a backing singer for Jimmy Eat World which she remembers primarily due to a beer swilling “taps aff” fan) Ms. Andrews’ appearance was keenly anticipated, many of the crowd seeming to be familiar with her latest release, Honest Life. Her set was short but compelling, her voice crystal clear, the songs lonesome reflections on life delivered perfectly. There was some tasty pedal steel accompaniment from Bryan Daste on several of the songs with Andrews’ guitar picking confident as displayed on the sublime delivery of Woman Of Many Colors (from her 2013 album On My Page). Rookie Dreaming and Table For One were somewhat sublime, the latter suffused with the loneliness of the long distance traveller and the song tonight that did recall the tundra like epistles of Joni Mitchell with whom Andrews has been often compared to. And while Andrews does court comparison with some sixties and seventies icons (I heard someone even say that in appearance tonight she looked a bit like Melanie) she has surely proved with Honest Life that she has moved on from such forebears,  the emotional heft of Not the End which tonight sliced through the venue proof indeed. There were similarly powerful performances as she sang Honest Life and Put The Fire Out, the audience in her hand and it was a pity that we were allotted such a short time in her company. Whispers are that Ms. Andrews will be returning in the not too distant future, if so be sure to catch her, she is a gem.

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Ah, The Handsome Family, the Morticia and Gomez Addams of Americana, a deliciously dark and twisted invite to visit an America peopled by freaks, mutant animals and fast food addicts getting their fix in lurid plastic palaces; they really have no equal. On record they continue to hone their audio alternative to David Lynch but live they open up with the songs punctuated by the superb (and achingly funny) repartee between Rennie and Brett, almost as if they were in a reality TV show featuring the battling Sparks family. Tonight, in-laws, depressing vacations and Brett’s mixture of lager and Lemsip (or Lemsick as Rennie renamed it) were running throughout the show, the pair bickering wonderfully. It was all hugely entertaining, at times rib tickling, but ultimately the repartee led into the songs which did not disappoint with a fine overview of their many albums including several from last year’s Unseen. They opened with the Gonzo reportage of Gold, a surreal tale of a robbery at their local Stop’n’Go (now closed) and the old favourite (and Christmas themed) Too Much Wine and then headed into the addled The Loneliness Of Magnets with Brett singing like Mel Torme on psilocybin, the song dedicated to an audience member’s birthday.

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The favourites came and went. Back In My Day, Weightless Again, Bottomless Hole, Tiny Tina, all delivered brilliantly, Brett’s deadpan baritone backed by the very fine band setting. Rennie on ukulele bass or autoharp, percussionist Jason Toth and a new family member, Alex McMahon on guitar, pedal steel and plastic organ along with Brett’s dynamic guitar delivered dark Gothic spells and toytown magic equally well. And of course they visited that nugget which allowed them their moment in the sun (surely anathema for such a crepuscular couple) with a fine delivery of Far From Any Road, chosen as the theme song for True Detectives some years back. As Brett said tonight he watched the TV and saw into the future, more people coming to their gigs. Fortunately they  have spurned the silver dollar and continue to purvey such eccentric songs as Octopus and Frogs, both delivered tonight and much more fun than listening to David Attenborough. The Handsome Family remain a singular delight and long may they do so.

 

Courtney Marie Andrews. Honest Life. Loose Music. Review and interview.

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The grainy portrait of Courtney Marie Andrews (almost like those pictures of lost kids on American milk cartons) which adorns Honest Life’s cover is close up, intrusive. The grain suggests a zoomed in crop of a larger picture, the surroundings unseen, allowing the listener to imagine the background, the baggage that inevitably clutters most photographs. What is undeniable is that Ms. Andrews’ stare is unflinching, defiant almost. Here she sets out her wares, crafted by her own hand and hewn from her own experiences and this fierce independence infuses the album as she sings of trials and tribulations and offers a sense of dignity to the downtrodden.

Still only in her mid twenties Andrews has packed a lot into her ten years in the music business. There’s a back catalogue which is somewhat confusing with several albums withdrawn apparently. Aside from her own ventures she has been an in demand musician and singer for various artists including Damien Jurado and Jimmy Eat World, a gig that ended up with her residing in Belgium playing for several artists there. The genesis of Honest Life occurred in Belgium as Andrews broke up a relationship and returned to the States taking up a job as a barmaid in a small tavern several miles out of Seattle. Here she served tables and heard the tales of the tavern’s denizens, several of which have made their way onto the album. She strips the tales and her own experiences down to the bone, the Honest Life(s) of the title, no aggrandisement here, the result recalling the naked emotions stirred on Joni Mitchell’s Blue. Crafting the album Andrews courted several producers but felt that their ideas didn’t tally with her wish to deliver a raw and relatively unembellished record so she took the bull by the horns and produced it herself.

The result is an album of glacial purity with Andrews’ voice cool and clear over a subtle and perfectly executed band setting that has glistening guitars and warm pedal steel complemented by superb keyboard playing. The sound does hark back to Mitchell’s first forays into group arrangements and that “Ladies of the canyon” vibe so popular with the folk rock mafia of that time but such is the strength of the songs that Andrews surmounts any accusations of mere copyism. There’s a heart and soul to these songs which bleeds from the speakers with dignity. Irene is perhaps the best example as a powerful country rock pulse twitches with her forensic lyrics, “The heart is funny Irene, you can’t control who it wants to love, so let it love Irene, man or woman, or anyone it wants.
You dream of the north Irene, well then that’s where you oughta be. But you gotta want it Irene, don’t follow any path half-heartedly.”  

Paths and roads feature heavily on the album be it the routes (mainly dead end) leading to a local dive or the paths Andrews herself follows. The album opens and closes with ruminations on a journey. The opener Rookie Dreaming positing her as an ingénue with romantic notions of sixties movies in her mind as realises romance is not all sugar and spice. On the closing song Only In My Mind she’s somewhat wiser, able to recognise that the notion of a perfect love is mainly in the mind. In between there’s the winsome Not The End, a song that captures the transience of true love. Part of Andrew’s voyage is her time bar tending, her muse here the customers of the bar she worked in and she captures perfectly their dramas and woes on several of the songs. Table For One paints a picture of a lonesome traveller stopping off for liquid succour while How Quickly The Heart Mends is Andrews’ version of a honky tonk song with a sting in its tail as she sings,

“I can’t believe I got all made up, put on this dress that you love, only for you to go and pretend, like all those years meant nothin’. So go on and forget, act like we’ve never met, 
leave with your new friends, how quickly your heart mends. The jukebox is playin’ a sad country song, for all the ugly Americans. Now I feel like one of them dancin’ alone and broken by the freedom.”

The album is packed with such lyrical acuity and all the songs are gracefully delivered, the band excellent on all accounts. It’s early days but Honest Life is already a contender for one of the albums of the year.

Ms. Andrews will be touring in the UK (supporting The Handsome Family) at the end of February and she was available for a short chat with Blabber’n’Smoke at the tail end of last year. We started off by asking her about the writing process for Honest Life.

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I started writing songs when I was really young, a teenager but for this album I started writing when I was in Belgium. Then I was a bartender in a small town bar in Washington State and that’s where I finished writing the songs.

They’re pretty sad songs

I was going through a hard time, a breakup.

Some folk think that breakup albums are some of the best ones

Yeah, well songs are a great way to express emotions, sometimes I think when you feel pain it’s easier to express that in a song.

There are lots of images of roads, trains and such. Is the album like an emotional journey?

I’d say that it is. I was talking to an interviewer a few months ago and we kind of came to the conclusion that even the sequencing of the songs was like a travelogue. The beginning, the opening song Rookie Dream is getting on the train, the beginning of the journey.

I take it that Rookie Dreaming is one of the earlier songs you wrote as you’re singing about moving too fast to see the paintings in Paris and the sunrise in Barcelona so presumably it was written in Europe.

Yeah. It was written way before all the other songs, that was actually a different time when I was in Europe some way back

I was going to ask you about your lyrics in that song when you say you felt like you were a 1960’s movie. Did you have a particular movie in mind?

No, I didn’t have any one movie in mind there. It’s more of a “feeling ” lyric if you know what I mean but now that you ask I wish that I did have one in mind, that’s a cool question.

Again, talking about paths and roads in Only In My Mind you sing, “life is a road without any turns” and I wondered if this is in any way related to the Robert Frost poem The Road Not Taken.

Well again, I didn’t have that in mind when I wrote that song but I love Robert Frost and it’s great that it has that effect on you when you listen to it.

Most of the album is just you and the band but there’s a string arrangement on Only In My Mind which is wonderful and sounds as if you had an orchestra in the studio with you.

That was my friend Andrew Joslyn. There’s a story behind that. He and a friend of mine were dating and they went on vacation and when they came back their house had burned down.  I’d asked him to write an arrangement and it was only a couple of days after the house burned down so he said that he wrote it in a kind of fervour, feeling all the pain and hurt he had and he managed it all in under an hour. There’s a lot of emotion in it and it really adds to the song.

You produced the album yourself.

Yes. I spoke to a few people but they weren’t really in line with what I wanted it to be, at least for this batch of songs. I wanted it to be raw and real.

People have compared the album to Joni Mitchell and I certainly thought that were elements of her and artists like Judee Sill and Carol King, an early seventies singer songwriter feel to it.

Well those women are definitely  huge influences on me and I respect and honour them but for me it wasn’t so much getting the sound of a certain time as getting a more timeless sound, one that you couldn’t pin down to a certain age. I think that when you have a more organic sound  and instruments on a record that people think of an older time and an older sound just because that’s what those records had on them.

The album’s being released here in January but I believe that it’s been out in the States since last summer. Has it done well over there?

It’s quite a big gap between the two release dates so it’s been a slow ride but yeah, it’s done well and it’s been a good time for me

For some of the songs you drew on your time spent bar tending.

Yes.  In these small time bars in America there’s all sorts of characters, people who don’t really seem to have many ambitions, not afraid to be themselves and especially when they’ve had a few drinks they’ll start to talk. They’ll tell you stories and I’m always willing to listen and be empathetic and try to connect with them. I think that everyone has a story in them but some are just more willing to tell you about it and those are the ones I wrote a song about.

In How Quickly Your Heart Mends you sing, “The jukebox plays a sad country song for all the ugly Americans.” It’s a very evocative lyric, a Hopper painting meeting a Tom Waits song.

Well when I played that song to some members of my family they were like, how can you say ugly Americans? But then it’s small town America and most city folk just don’t have the experience of being there. They don’t understand what that small town feel is. It’s people who have been stuck in a small town forever and that’s what I was trying to convey.

 

As we said Courtney Marie Andrews is touring the UK with Loose Music stable mates The Handsome Family. Dates are here