The word ‘Country’ can evoke horrific thoughts of syrupy crimes against music. If it brings to mind images of rhinestones and tassels, of cheesy balladeers weeping into their beer because they got done wrong, their lady got up and left them or they lost their pet dog in a threshing machine tragedy (and the dog also happened to be their only friend in the world) then…. well that’s unfortunate. Because it’s not that you are massively wrong, I dare say there are hundreds of examples that would prove the above clichés are born out of fact, but this should not push you away from all Country. Anyone with any serious interest in music will know that early Rock ‘n’ Roll was essentially just Country music played faster with a shot of Blues thrown in. Not just that but many of our greatest songwriters, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen being three primary examples, all had their formative seeds sewn in the Hank Williams soil. In fact, all the best Folk, Singer-Songwriter and Country of the past 70 years has a lineage that can be traced back to Hank. Country music remains as important and relevant today as it ever has and there’s some great stuff around now too!

Of all the fertile genres and sub-genres in music there’s certainly an abundance of young female Country singers releasing incredible records; artists like Margo Price, Sallie Ford, Nikki Lane and Holly Macve are all breathing new life onto the canvas that Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn used to work with and doing it with some class. Courtney Marie Andrews has been quietly releasing, mostly independent, albums for ten years now but it was 2016’s ‘Honest Life’ which flagged up an emerging depth to her craft. Songs like the aching ‘Put The Fire Out’ won her some notable attention and exposure. After ploughing through the frustrations and knockbacks of that long decade she was definitely one to watch, rising to the top of an increasingly competitive Americana music scene.

This latest release is surely going to be the album that cements her reputation. ‘May Your Kindness Remain’ displays the kind of maturity you’d expect from a Lucinda Williams or Emmylou Harris. It is a confident set of songs that pushes and shoves the emotional dial to such a degree that, despite some of the lush sounds clothing these songs, this listening is never easy or light. Take the album’s first single, ‘Kindness Of Strangers’ as a case in point; the lead guitar parts chime a grand refrain and the melody is one that sits in your head, but this is a song about craving human warmth and connection at the darkest and most desperate of times. Like so many of the greatest songs, it deals with a basic truth of the human condition. Namely that the random and simple of act of a caring or friendly exchange with a total stranger can lift the spirit like nothing else.

It’s been a long road to this point, where Courtney enjoys vocal praise from heavyweights like Elton John and Ryan Adams. She hasn’t just spent the formative years of her career working on her songwriting material, she’s also observed an impressive work ethic as a session player and back up artist to acts as diverse as Jimmy Eat World and Damien Jurado. That dedication to her art sounds liking it’s paying dividends now though, as the speedy arrival of this new record proves, coming as it does less than two years after what many now consider a breakthrough album. Courtney Marie Andrews has found her groove and is churning out songs that sound like instant classics. Producer Mark Howard deserves a nod of approval too, this is such a deep and warm sounding album that embraces gospel and soul with occasional dips into the echoey piano sound heard on the Spector produced early Beatle solo albums. The mixture ensures that the album as a whole evolves and moves, it doesn’t stay in one mood for too long. It’s also so good to hear a suite of songs that make sense from dramatic opening to an emotional finale, the art of the properly constructed album is alive and well in 2018. In the hands of singers like Courtney Marie Andrews, Country music’s in pretty fine health as well!

Review by: Danny Neil

Listen to ‘Kindness of Strangers’…