2018 is shaping up to be Courtney Marie Andrews’ year. After winning International Artist of the Year at the UK Americana Awards (and being nominated for International Album of the Year for Honest Life), she released her latest record, May Your Kindness Remain, last month. The album won critical acclaim and shot to number one on the UK Americana Albums chart, and Andrews has been touring the UK to promote the record, including a show at London’s Islington Assembly Hall.
Andrews took to the stage around 9 PM, clad in one of her trademark floaty white dresses, carrying her acoustic guitar and with a microphone stand wrapped in pink roses. After thanking the crowd for coming, she opened her set with Long Road Back To You, the last track on her new album. The song shows off her gorgeous, Joni Mitchell-esque voice to perfection; it was raw and powerful but without the need for her to belt, and I loved the gospel touches on the chorus. The audience were absolutely spellbound throughout before bursting into huge applause. Andrews followed that with the folk-influenced ‘sarcastic love song’ I’ve Hurt Worse, which contrasted an uptempo melody with bittersweet, self-deprecating lyrics.
For the majority of the set Andrews stuck to songs from her current record, including the honky-tonk, bluesy Two Cold Nights In Buffalo with its biting social commentary, the heartfelt Rough Around The Edges, which was filled with small lovely details, and the warm, affectionate This House. However, she also performed some fan favourites from her previous albums, such as the heart-wrenching Table For One, which showed off her skills as a lyricist and created a really vivid portrait of the song’s main character, and Near You with its fine balance of yearning and controlled anger. Andrews is great at conveying a real mixture of emotions in her songs and that really stood out all the way through the show.
One of the things that particularly surprised me about Andrews’ performance was how much energy she had on stage. Having only seen her live once before as part of an awards show, I hadn’t expected to move around much or engage with the crowd. However, right from the off she was jamming with her band and getting in lost in the music, as well as telling stories about her songs (which, like her lyrics, were packed with details) and a hilarious exchange of ‘thank you’s with an audience member which she described as ‘the most polite heckle I’ve ever had’. I was also seriously impressed with her musicianship; as well as her acoustic guitar, she also played keyboard and electric guitar throughout the set.
However, what pulled the whole show together for me was Andrews’ incredible voice. By turns husky, soulful, rich and smooth, with a great sense of control yet beautifully conveying the emotion of her lyrics. She’s an outstanding vocalist on record but when she performs her songs live they completely come to life. The most obvious example of this was on the atmospheric Border, which built and faded away and built up again in layers of crunching, whining guitars, with her quavering, powerful vocal adding to the sense of foreboding. By contrast, she showed off the sweet side of her voice on Moving On, a lovely lilting song she wrote for her aunt when she was diagnosed with cancer and which beautifully captures the sense of life being fleeting.
Andrews closed her set with the organ-led, touching May Your Kindness Remain, the title track from her current album and which ended the show on an uplifting, positive note. After uproarious demands from the audience, she and her band returned for an encore of three songs, beginning with the dreamy Let The Good One Go and the uptempo Irene, which built to a crescendo. Both songs highlighted both sides of Andrews’ performance and I felt they summed up the show perfectly. She then invited support act Twain to join her and her band for the last song, a cover of Little Feat’s Willin’. All of Andrews’ band members and Twain took solo sections of the song and it had the feeling of being at an amazing jam session in the 70s.
Overall Andrews delivered a great show. She fills her lyrics with beautiful, vivid portraits of people and places, and the vulnerability and warmth in her superb vocals really brought them out in force. When combined with her skill as a musician and the sheer variety of styles and influences she showed throughout the set, it all made for a fantastic evening. If you ever get the chance to see her live make sure that you do, because she really is an incredibly special and talented artist.
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Set list: 1. Long Road Back To You 2. I’ve Hurt Worse 3. Two Cold Nights In Buffalo 4. Table For One 5. Near You 6. Rough Around The Edges 7. This House 8. Kindness Of Strangers 9. How Quickly Your Heart Mends 10. Moving On 11. Border 12. Sea Town 13. Took You Up 14. May Your Kindness Remain 15. Let The Good One Go 16. Irene 17. Willin’ (Little Feat cover) Performance date: 24th April 2018