In part, it’s the starkness of the “Near You” video that gets me. Shot in 2013 at a Manchester club, Courtney Marie Andrews perches on a chair, and leans from the darkness into a spotlight that seemingly cuts through unseen clouds like a god ray. In larger part, however, it’s the sheer hypnotic quality of her vocal, which cuts through the quagmire of YouTube compression like a luminous murmur. And, too, it’s the lyrics themselves, which spin a tale of unfettered love.
When she released the song as a single in the fall of 2017, seven years (or so) after she wrote it, Courtney explained that it’s “about loving someone without expectations or ego. I wrote this song when I was 20 years old. At that time, I was still learning about that kind of love, and I suspect writing this song helped me understand that. Real adult love is loving yourself enough to love someone without expectations. ‘Near You’ explores themes of a flawed person who loves another flawed person, but doesn’t beg them to change.”
I’d like to say that I discovered the video not long after I read the reviews of Honest Life in Uncut and Mojo on the same afternoon in February 2017, when I began a mad dash through YouTube’s many CMA clips. But, in truth, I stumbled upon it this past Thursday night, not long after listening to Courtney Marie’s latest offering, the title tune to her forthcoming May Your Kindness Remain album. It was next up on the algorithmic block.
The organ, dirty guitar and gospel accents of “May Your Kindness Remain” jell together like a spicy gumbo cooked up inside a big pink house in Woodstock. (That’s an admittedly awkward reference to the Band’s Music From Big Pink LP, I hasten to add, not the John Mellencamp song.) As I wrote Thursday night, it bodes well for the album as a whole – which, I should mention, is available for pre-order over at Courtney’s Bandcamp page.
Here’s another song slated to be on the album, “Long Road Back to You,” which I recorded at last year’s Boot & Saddle show. To my ears then and now, it could well be a song A.P. Carter mined in the hills of Appalachia during the 1920s.
It’ll be interesting to hear the album version, and whether it’s fleshed out with a band and backup singers. As-is, however, it’s a mesmerizing song. As is this one, “It Keeps Going,” from her 2013 album On My Page:
Unfortunately, life being life, I don’t have as much time to explore the highways and byways of YouTube as I’d like. I deep-dive when possible, especially when devising a Top 5, but by and large…I often wind up surprised years after I should’ve been – such as by this cover of “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.” Written by the legendary songwriters Chips Moman and Dan Penn, it was first recorded by Aretha Franklin on her I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You album…
…and covered by a whole host of classic acts, including the Flying Burrito Brothers on their 1969 debut, The Gilded Palace of Sin. (That was the first version I heard, actually, by way of the double-LP Close Up the Honky Tonks collection, which I picked up on April 27, 1984, when I was 18.)
I contemplated concluding with a flourish of words but, instead, I’ll simply circle back to the song at the start, “Near You.” The single version released last September is as stunning as that solo performance from long ago – and, though we didn’t know it, a precursor of things to come. Sonically speaking, it shares quite a bit with “May Your Kindness Remain,” including a guitar roaring and soaring its way into the melody.