It only seems like yesterday since Courtney Marie Andrews played last at Whelan’s, one of the final dates of her 2017 tour on the back of Honest Life, the album that finally got the prolific young artist from Phoenix Arizona much deserved industry recognition. Touring since the age of sixteen as a busker, guitarist in Damien Jurado's band, a solo artist and more recently with her band, Andrews freely admits to having no fixed abode and often using the services of Airbnb for accommodation on the few periods that she is not on the road. That previous show in Whelan’s, which included material from the about to be recorded album, was actually August 2017, when she announced that she was heading directly to Los Angeles to record a new album after she performed at the Americana Music Festival in Nashville in September and would be back in Dublin shortly. True to her word, her return show and only gig in Ireland, is to promote that album titled Let Your Kindness Remain, recorded in a week with mainly first takes featuring material and themes quite unlike its predecessor. Honest Life, as the title suggests, was personal and soul searching with Andrews unlocking the door to her inner feelings and frailties. Her latest album is entirely wider lens and reflective, dealing with political issues, mental illness and a plea for empathy in these turbulent times. The material was written while Andrews, a self-confessed eavesdropper and people watcher, toured the States observing the dismantling of middle class America and the trail of destruction left in its wake.
She opens her set this evening with two low key and sombre tracks from the album, the beguiling Long Road Back To You and I've Hurt Worse, a sarcastic view on a loveless relationship. Her band members Dillon Warnek (guitar) and Greg Diarra (keyboards), together with her long-time rhythm section of Alex Sabel (bass) and William Mapp (drums) are note perfect, the material honed to precision by the hectic touring schedule prior to recording the album. Andrews - an accomplished musician in her own right - switches between acoustic, electric guitar and keyboards. A prolific songwriter - she wrote three tracks for Honest Life in one day - her setlist this evening taps strongly into the material from the latest album which finds her departing somewhat from the more folky and acoustic leanings of her earlier work, to a more soulful and fuller sound. Gospel singer C.C. White features strongly on the album and her inclusion appears to have motivated Andrews to challenge herself vocally and the outcome this evening is quite spectacular. The rockier songs Two Nights In Buffalo and Kindness Of Strangers find her powerfully hitting and stretching notes that she may not have attempted a year back. Material from Honest Life also features with the hypnotic Table For One, Let The Good One Go and How Quickly Your Heart Mends all performed. Two songs - Near You and Sea Town - that were included as bonus tracks on the coloured vinyl release of Honest Life are also welcomed inclusions, further evidence of the substantial body of songs that she's written in recent years. The attention to detail by both Andrews and her band is a joy to behold, every lyric and note rehearsed and performed meticulously. Letting the music do the talking we are three quarter way through her set before she pauses to enter into gentle banter with the audience, reminding us how Whelan’s is one of her favourite venues.
With hardly a pause from ending the main set she's back on stage for a three song encore. A stunning delivery of Honest Life, accompanied by only Warnek on guitar, is followed by a return to the stage by her band for the rousing crowd pleaser Irene. Tailing off with a cover of Little Feat’s Willin’, it’s hardly a coincidence that the same song featured in many of Linda Ronstadt’s live concerts at the height of her career.
Minutes later Andrews is at the merchandise desk, meeting, greeting, posing for photos and signing albums. Based on the length of the queue it's fair to say that a large percentage of the gathering were also buying her albums, with both Kindness and her recent re-release No One’s Slate Is Clean priced at a modest ten euro. A wonderful evening by an artist that connects with the music of past decades - early 70’s particularly - and who would undoubtedly have been a household name in those days when a cash rich industry rewarded the artist as well as record label executives. Given that Andrews in still only in her late-twenties let’s hope she continues to blossom and gains the recognition she richly deserves. Some folks just have it all!
Review and photograph by Declan Culliton