by Sean Jewell ::
Courtney Marie Andrews third album Honest Life is a high water mark in her career. The album opener “Rookie Dreamin” plays like Jackson Browne wrote it for Linda Ronstadt in California in 1972 –but it wasn’t, and it isn’t. It’s 2016, a musician can scarcely afford to look at a guitar without picking up a dayjob, and Courtney Marie Andrews writes her own damn songs. She’s spent the last couple years in Washington after a youth spent on the road that found her working backup bands for the folks like Damien Jurado, and earning admiration from the likes of Ryan Adams.
Andrews has settled in a rural town, and worked pouring drinks at a local tavern while she finished the songs for Honest Life. They’re barroom tales of greatness and gravitas. During “Irene” Andrews sings, as if to a friend “you are a magnet, Irene / sometimes good people draw troublesome things” among a chorus of backup singers . On “How Quickly Your Heart Mends” she sings “the jukebox is playing a sad country song / for all the ugly Americans / now I feel like one of them / dancin alone and broken by the freedom / now I’m all dolled up for any drunken fool / who thinks he can replace you…” over piano and slide guitar. Not even a respite from her life touring gets her to stop observing, writing, and singing about the variety of life around her.
Andrews possesses a special arsenal: the ability to play, write, and sing. Those weapons combined with her inspirations –heartbreak, and travel– have resulted in a tremendous song collection on Honest Life. With a backup band providing electric guitar, slide, piano, and drums it’s a stellar combination. To be honest though, just about every song on Honest Life could work a cappella, accompanied with just piano, or acoustic guitar. Courtney Marie Andrews is a true artist. She’s traded the ease of her life at home for the heartbreak and wisdom of the road, and put that work on record. From the young “Rookie Dreamin” to the weary loner at a “Table For One” Andrews carves a huge swath of appeal, you can only sing “’cause i’m a little bit lonely / a little bit stoned / and I’m ready to go home/ you don’t wanna be like me / this life it ain’t free…” when you’ve lived it.
Whether by rhythm or accident Andrews has opened her album with the end of youth, got lost, heart broke, and stoned, and ended up back on “Highway Lines”. Only in this song her new love flies out to find her. She closes on “Only In My Mind” with piano, cello, and violin plucking brightly behind the very pragmatic realization “In my mind life was a road without any turns / every chance was given / no hard lessons to be learned / in my mind I had the answers / every dream was within sight / every heartache could be mended / happiness came with time / but it was only in my mind“. Which, depending on how you look at it, is either the saddest goddamn thing you’ve ever heard or the gloriously self-aware. That’s country music.
Courtney Marie Andrews Honest Life is out August 19th on Mama Bird Recordings and man, you need it.