Posts Tagged ‘Two Cold Nights in Buffalo’

I’ve never been good about multitasking musical passions. I’m either all-in, or searching for the next album to be all-in with. For example, from the moment NPR began streaming Courtney Marie Andrews’ May Your Kindness Remainalbum to now, some two weeks and change later, I’ve listened pretty much only to it. And why wouldn’t I? The 10 songs hit the trifecta, connecting with the heart, soul and intellect.

Oh, last Sunday, while out and about doing errands, I gave Diane (who loves the album, but isn’t as obsessive as me) a break from the madness; we listened to XPN for a spell. And I’ve cranked up a few YouTube videos, too – including this one from CMA’s Boston show on March 26th.

Yes! It’s the Stax-like song whose title escaped both Diane and I by the time we’d made it to the car after Courtney Marie’s Philly show last Saturday. I actually hear a bit of Aretha’s “Baby I Love You” in there now, which I didn’t hear last week in the frenzy of the live performance. It’s phenomenal.

But, by and large, it’s been May Your Kindness Remain (plus the “Near You” single) that I’ve been listening to, and listening to again and again. The album just keeps getting better, and my favorite songs from it keep shifting. First it was the title track and “Kindness of Strangers,” then “Rough Around the Edges” and “Took You Up.” Now? It’s “Two Cold Nights in Buffalo.”

This morning, however, I made a conscious effort to seek out something new: Dillon Warnek’s three-song EP, Demos 2018. (Dillon, for those unaware, is the guitarist playing those killer licks in “Two Cold Nights” above.) Demos 2018 is pure Dillon – and shouldn’t be ignored. The songs conjure a young Steve Earle or Townes Van Zandt, yet possess his own sense and style. Listen to the EP below, then head over to his Bandcamp page and buy it.

Then, this afternoon, my Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-JohnXanadu” bundle (along with the Hey Babe vinyl reissue) arrived on my doorstep…

I’ve only heard the album straight through once, thus far, but… I love it. I honestly love it. I should add that I don’t think it will matter whether one came of age during ONJ’s hey day, as I did, and thus has a soft spot in the heart for the songs, only knows ONJ from Grease, or – heaven forbid – is a lifelong Juliana fan who thinks the project is a misstep. (ONJ has never had much critical cachet, after all.) The songs sound like prime Juliana, whose “prime” period – as last year’s Pussycat attests – has never ended.

I’ll have more to say about it in the weeks to come, guaranteed.

Right now, however, I have to flip the switch yet again, as we’re seeing the singer-songwriter Lucy Rose tomorrow night. We saw her open for Paul Weller last October, and she delivered a solid set despite a rather rambunctious crowd. Before an audience of her fans, I suspect she’ll be as spellbinding as her last album, Something’s Changing. Here she is at the Paste studios this past week…

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.)