Posts Tagged ‘May Your Kindness Remain’

This morning, during a rather hellacious commute, I whiled away the time listening to Courtney Marie Andrews’ May Your Kindness Remain, which is an early contender for my esteemed Album of the Year honors, and then listened to it again. I listened to it on the way home yesterday, and the day before that, and almost every day since its release.

It’s everything good about music. As I said in my First Impressions piece, “it’s the sound not of a generation, but of the generations.”

I told Diane as we were leaving her Boot & Saddle show last month that it’s likely the last time she’ll play there. The next time she’s in Philly (XPoNential Festival aside), she’ll be headlining the World Cafe Live’s downstairs room, which holds 300 to 600 (depending on whether tables are present; let’s hope for tables, as us old folks can only go so long on our feet), and instead of 100 fans in the room, it’ll be sold out. (Of course, I predicted that after we learned from Dillon Warnek that they were slated to appear on NPR’s World Cafe radio show two days later.) I hope I’m right.

Anyway, one of the thoughts that crossed my mind this morning: Songs that Courtney could and should cover – and not just any songs. Timeless songs, like hers.

And with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Timeless Songs.

1) Iris DeMent – “Livin’ in the Wasteland of the Free.” This is one of Iris’ most passionate and political songs, and even now – 20-plus years later – it resonates because, truth be told, not much has changed in the intervening years. And twang accent aside, it’s a perfect fit for Courtney. 

2) Merle Haggard – “If We Make It Through December.” One of the greatest songs about hard times ever written or performed.

3) Kris Kristofferson – “Help Me Make It Through the Night.” Another stone-cold classic, though one that’s been covered many, many times by many artists through the years.

4) Steve Earle – “Someday.” Another gem about working-class realities, and dreams of escape. (From Steve’s essential Guitar Town album.) Courtney would kill it. 

5) June Carter – “Juke Box Blues.” Long before she became Mrs. Cash, June was Nashville royalty – for good reason, of course. That said, she was often cast into comedy numbers due to the fact that she often shared the stage with sister Anita, whose voice is beauty set to song. “Juke Box Blues” was the B side to “No Swallerin’ Place,” a 1953 single. Unlike the A side, which is a joke set to a melody, the song is comedic primarily due to June’s delivery; the lyrics themselves are a testament to the power of music. (It was written by June’s mother Maybelle and sister Helen, for what that’s worth.) It’s long overdue for a revival – plus, Dillon could have a field day on guitar.)  

And one bonus…

6) Nanci Griffith – “If Wishes Were Changes.” What can be said about this gem? In short, to use one of my many overused words, it’s wondrous.

I witnessed the past, present and future of American music in South Philly last night, at a club called the Boot & Saddle. There, on a small stage that doesn’t have a proper exit, Arizona-born singer-songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews and her crack band integrated country, rock, folk, R&B and gospel into a sonic whole that echoed both the ages and the soul. It’s the sound not of a generation, but of the generations.

If that sounds hyperbolic, so be it. But consider this: Just as A.P. Carter disappeared into the Appalachian Mountains to mine (and write) songs that provided sustenance to a hungry nation during the Great Depression, and he did, in the decades since every artist of note has learned from, and been inspired by, the music that came before, and provided an intangible that made bad times less bad and good times even better. It’s a never-ending chain, in a sense. Courtney Marie, to my ears, is the latest link.

It’s more than just her, however: It’s also us, the fans and listeners. Just as a Bruce Springsteen concert reinvigorated a dispirited Jon Landau in 1974, and inspired the famed (and oft-misinterpreted) line, “I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen,” so, too, did last night’s show for me. It was everything good not just about music, but about life.

When we saw Courtney Marie at the same venue last year, the crowd was sparse. Last night wasn’t sold out, but looked to be at least double – about 100, give or take. (The venue holds 150, I think.) Which is to say, word is getting out. A guy next to us discovered her last week by way of NPR’s First Listen, for example, and then heard her on WXPN. He compared her vocal prowess to Linda Ronstadt’s.

The set opened with “Two Cold Nights in Buffalo,” in which Courtney Marie turns a snow-enforced stay in the Nickel City into a sharp-eyed ode about the gentrification of American life. Our cities and towns are gradually becoming cookie-cutter replicas of one another, trading their unique charms for the same (or similar) chain stores and restaurants, cafes and overpriced housing. The mom-and-pop stores of yore are fading away.

Another highlight came early: “Near You,” a hypnotic song Courtney wrote seven or eight years ago, but only pressed to vinyl last year. Dillon Warnek was simply phenomenal on guitar; he reminded me of Gurf Morlix and/or Kenny Vaughan.

“Rough Around the Edges,” one of my favorites from May Your Kindness Remain, simply ached. At one point or another, everyone says something they wish they could take back, wants to escape by sleeping late, and feels cursed by questions we can’t answer.

“Border” was beyond powerful. It reminded me, in a weird way, of when we saw Lucinda Williams and band jam out on “Joy” in the ’90s. (Very different lyrically, yes, but similar in the muscular arrangement.)

The title cut to Courtney’s May Your Kindness Remain album was akin to attending a revival meeting (which I say without having been to one).

The main set ended on a Stax-like note with a song that will be released as a b-side in the near future. Think Carla Thomas’ “B-A-B-Y” as sung by Aretha, only grittier and funkier. (Both Courtney and Dillon told us the title during the meet-and-greet, but our ever-advancing age guaranteed that it slipped our mind by the time we reached the car.) I wish I’d recorded it, but didn’t simply because…

When Courtney Marie and band went to leave the stage after said Stax-Like Song, they realized they couldn’t without walking through the audience. (The stage door at the Boot & Saddle is literally next to the stage, not on the stage.) So they played the encore without actually forcing us to play the suspense game.

Courtney Marie then met with fans at the merchandise table (Diane got a nice T-shirt; I got the vinyl for “Near You.”) We ran into Dillon in the bar itself, and had a great conversation with him about music past and present. He’s a great guy in addition to being a great guitarist.

Anyway, there was no setlist to steal (or take a picture of), so the set is based on what I recorded, snippets of songs from my iPhone’s “live” pictures and memory. I may be missing a song or two, and likely misplaced “Kindness of Strangers” in the set order.

  1. Two Cold Nights in Buffalo
  2. I’ve Hurt Worse
  3. Table for One
  4. Near You
  5. How Quickly Your Heart Mends
  6. Long Road Back to You
  7. Rough Around the Edges
  8. Honest Life
  9. This House
  10. Kindness of Strangers
  11. Border
  12. May Your Kindness Remain
  13. Stax-Like Song
  14. Irene (encore)

For decades, just about, I usually rolled out of bed in the predawn, gulped coffee while browsing the news (and newsfeed) or working on my website/blog, and departed for the office some two hours later, right around 7:30am. I maintained that early-to-rise routine on weekends, too – even if we were out late the night before. It was just the way of my life. These days, however? Most weekdays, I wake late, don’t turn on the computer until the night, and barely glance at my iPhone until I arrive at the office around 8:30am. So it was somewhat serendipitous that I fired up the MacBook this past Thursday morning – albeit for just 10 minutes – and discovered, by way of Facebook, that NPR’s First Listen was none other than Courtney Marie Andrews’ May Your Kindness Remain album, which is due out on March 23rd.

I streamed it during the commute that followed, and found myself – for the first time ever, I think – cursing what was an atypical easy ride. The lack of slowdowns, accidents, or debris on the highway made it appear that I’d arrive at work before the album ended. (Thankfully, my fear was for naught: a jam at the Valley Forge exit, where some 10 lanes narrow into two, caused me to pull into my company’s parking lot about five minutes after the 43-minute listen had ended.)

I played it again that evening. And again this morning – times four. Not enough listens for a proper review, but enough to share my first impressions. Which are:

Unlike Honest Life, which was – by and large – a fairly stripped-down affair, the 10 songs here are fleshed out with organ, electric guitar, and Sweet Inspirations-esque backing vocals. A gritty guitar often reverberates, sawing through songs – such as the title track or “Took You Up” – like a serrated blade through softwood lumber. (Wood houses, for those unaware, are framed with what’s known as softwood.)

Now that I think about it, however, that’s an imperfect metaphor, as the song structures are beyond solid. The guitar does no damage, in other words; rather, it acts more like an accent or umlaut, fleshing out the sound and emotions. So, shifting to a more apt analogy, the sonic stew conjure the likes of Dylan (both Bob and Thomas), Joni, Lucinda, and the Band, plus – especially on “Two Cold Nights in Buffalo” – Iris DeMent. (“Livin’ in the Wasteland of the Free” is calling out to be covered in concert, Courtney. Just sayin’.)

But, mostly, the echoes are just that – echoes. Courtney synthesizes those (real or imagined) influences into a tasty gumbo of her own.

Lyrically, she makes the universal personal and the personal universal. Whether or not she lived the experiences, “Lift the Lonely From My Heart,” “Rough Around the Edges” and “Took It Up” sound like the confessions of a battered soul. (From “Took It Up”: “Is it the journey or the destination/is this love or is this addiction/circumstances are meant to be/what does that say about you and me?”) The piano intro in “Rough Around the Edges” – which is just a stellar song – is akin to a soft wind carrying the melody of a long-ago tune, though which one I can’t yet identify. On the flip side, she sounds contented in “This House,” which – though it’s not much of a house – she considers a home.

I’ll have more on it in the coming weeks. But this much I can say now: Once the album drops next week, I’ll be playing it over and over, and over, again.

(It’s available for purchase here, by the way.)

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.