This was not Courtney Marie Andrews first time to play Whelans. She explained that she had come over on the ferry as a teenager having been advised to play the venue by an Irishman of her acquaintance and ended up performing to a couple of people in the public bar before heading right back to the UK on the ferry to do some further busking. This time around there was substantially more people there to see her perform and on the basis of her stunning show a larger venue may be required for her next visit. She was accompanied by her four piece band and delivered a set that was considerably more electric and rocking’ than her studio albums and videos might suggest.
She opened with How Quickly Your Heart Mends from her most recent album Honest Life, already a contender for album of the year in many quarters. Andrews pointed out that straight after this tour, which ends at The AMA’s Festival in Nashville, she and the band would be going into the studio to record their next album and that these shows would act as preproduction. In that light there were a number of new songs in the set, all well received by her fans who would likely be hearing them for the first time. Table For One, Put The Fire Out, 15 Highway Lines and the gorgeous Rookie Dreaming were included from Honest Life together with a selection of songs from a previous album (On My Page) that had been rereleased by her UK label Loose Music to coincide with the tour. One of these songs, highlighting her skill as a songwriter, is titled Paintings From Michael and is performed solo by her at the piano having explained the story behind the song; that of an incarcerated relation who painted while in prison. Throughout the show her superb vocal ability was readily apparent handling both solo acoustic folk songs and full throated rock work-outs. She also displayed slick guitar playing skills with some delicate finger pickin’ on Woman Of Many Colours also from the rereleased album.
There was some banter between Andrews and the audience, a couple of whom who were effusive in their praise. Another moment was when she strapped on her electric guitar for the first time and someone quipped “Judas” to much amusement all round. At the end there was a tongue in cheek request for Smells Like Teen Spirit which the band briefly, but effectively, played the intro before finishing the set with the crowd pleaser Irene. The encores included a solo version of a new song Rough Around The Edges, which might be the title of the next album and an amped up version of Bob Dylan’s Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You, highlighting the versatility of the band.
There was little to doubt the skill of those on the stage. Andrews quipped that they were known as Courtney Marie Band when they played together and the fact that these were her long time regular players (who were featured on her recordings) gave them an undoubted collective ability to serve the songs in the way best suited to that moment of performance. It was also apparent that although, still only in her mid-twenties, Andrews has so much to offer both as a writer and performer and with a number of album already under her belt has the potential to become a much more mainstream artist. The style and delivery of her newer material also suggested that her next album may be a departure to a fuller rockier sound compared to the more intimate style of the exquisite Honest Life.
Sound designer, audio engineer and musician Scott Hirsch filled the support slot splendidly with a thirty minute set which included material from his debut 2016 album Blue Rider Songs. A former bass player alongside MC Taylor in Hiss Golden Messenger, his style varied from laid back country soul to a fuller bluesy rock sound and his accompanying three piece band included American keyboard and guitar wizard Sean Coleman, currently residing in Dublin. Darkness, Blue Rider and his closing track Isabella were particularly impressive. All in all a great opener from an act more than worthy to be headlining himself.
Review by Stephen Rapid and Declan Culliton Photograph (at top) by Kaethe Burt O'Dea. (Below) Scott Hirsch and Sean Coleman by Declan Culliton