Courtney Marie Andrews - The Hideout1354 W. Wabansia Ave Chicago,IL
09/25/2018 9:00 PM - 09/25/2018 11:00 PM
Courtney Marie Andrews
Courtney Marie Andrews spent over nine months of 2017 on the road, with multiple trips across the US, Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. That’s nothing new for Andrews, though. She’s been touring relentlessly since leaving her Arizona hometown at 16. It’s a life that inspired much of her 2016 breakthrough album, Honest Life. While that album’s themes spoke to the isolation and rootlessness inherent in a life on the road, most of its songs were actually written during an intentional, extended break. The success that followed its release, however, didn’t afford her the same break to write the material for her new album.
Although May Your Kindness Remain was predominately written on the road -- in the van, in hotels, and in the homes of family and friends -- it’s not a road record like its predecessor. That is, it’s not so much inspired by her life on the road so much as it is by the people she’s met along the way. It’s an inward reflection on the connectivity of their stories and her own. “More than anything,” she says, “it got me thinking about my childhood, and the people around me that I’ve known, and the stories that come from my family. It became clear how many people are struggling through the same issues.”
May Your Kindness Remain is full of vivid depictions of complex people and places with all too common struggles. Much of the album deals with the psychological and relational impact of the unrealistic picture of success that is so embedded in modern American culture.
“People are constantly chasing that bigger life. A lot of people are poor in America -- and because of those unattainable goals, they’re also mentally unstable, or sad, or depressed or unfulfilled. A lot of people -- myself included at some point in my life -- are loving somebody through this. That’s sort of the theme of the record: coming to terms with depression and the reality of the world we’re living in. Mental illness is a taboo in this culture -- or not taken seriously. I’ve grown up around it a lot, and sort of feel like I understand it from all sides.”
There are no simple answers in these songs. There’s just an acknowledgement of our shared hardships and a call for empathy. Despite its characters’ burdens, May Your Kindness Remain isn’t downtrodden. There’s a defiance built into its melancholy, a sense that even the most complicated problems are worth facing -- a sentiment that also explains why the album’s music refuses to stay within any rigid sonic boundaries.
While Andrews self-produced Honest Life, she knew this one had to be different. To record May Your Kindness Remain, her restless side took over. “It’s very characteristic to how I work -- I need to be shaken up,” she says. “I was like, ‘I need to change something, and create something different, and push myself in a different direction. I knew I wanted to make a more modern, unique sounding record.”
She found that direction thanks to a bit of serendipity. All at once, she began noticing Mark Howard’s name on several of her favorite records. She was consistently drawn to the resonant depth of the sound and tone in the albums he had done with luminaries like Lucinda Williams,
Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris and Tom Waits. With nothing to lose, her manager messaged him about producing the new record.
The inquiry was a success: months later, Andrews and her band found themselves in a rented house in Los Angeles, overlooking the city’s skyline, making May Your Kindness Remain with Howard at the helm. “I wanted to make a record in L.A.,” she says. “In that house, overlooking a city that epitomizes both America’s diversity and also the commonality of very real struggles against often unrealistic hopes and dreams.”
Andrews recalls Howard saying that he liked “making records that you can live in.” To her, it felt intuitive, natural and spontaneous -- an extension of the songwriting process that went into these songs. Howard, Andrews and the band lived in that house for eight days, barely fitting it in between two tours. As is Howard’s custom, the house was the studio. He brought all the gear, recording everyone in the same room to a live board, live off the floor. “A lot of the record is either the first take or we did just one overdub,” Andrews says. “Nothing’s overthought.” The band set up in a circle, watching each other across the room as they played each song live.
As a result, the album sounds intimate and warm, as if listeners are in the house with them, watching it all unfold. While May Your Kindness Remain is Andrews’ fullest sounding record to date, the songs and her vocals are never eclipsed. “Mark’s really good about stripping the song down to the bones, and asking, ‘Where is the song in this? And how do we make the song come out while still having great instrumentation?’” Andrews recalls.
Still, the album’s arrangements are meticulous. Unlike the predominantly acoustic guitar based Honest Life, May Your Kindness Remain builds around Andrews’ songs with heavy lead guitar (Dillon Warnek) and keys riffs (Daniel Walker, Charles Wicklander). Having played with Andrews for years, the rhythm section (Alex Sabel, bass; William Mapp, drums, percussion) fills the sound as naturally as you’d expect. There was no click track for Mapp, adding to the album’s sentient, live feel.
Every instrument and sound on the album has their proper place, across diverse styles: proud piano ballads (“Rough Around the Edges”); easygoing, country-tinted rock (“Kindness of Strangers”); and biting, sarcastic folk gems (“I’ve Hurt Worse”). Gospel singer C.C. White adds backing vocals throughout, including on the stunning title track, a striking statement of purpose that blooms at the end thanks to layers of soulful harmonies. “When C.C. was singing her parts,” Andrews remembers, “I just laid there on the floor, both comforted and blown away.”
Andrews’ own vocals are notably more powerful and soulful -- especially on the organ-heavy blues number “Border”, with a ragged weariness that honors the immigrant’s resilience in the face of blatant thoughtlessness and racism; and “Took You Up”, a take on accepting love as a simple offering before any illusion of wealth or success. Her vocal performances reflect her recent listening habits, which include Motown and soul, as well as albums by the eclectic rock band Little Feat. They also point to her confidence and growing range as a live vocalist.
“I subconsciously started incorporating more vocal stretching in my songs, just because of how fun that was,” she says. “I’ve always been really inspired by soul singers. I can sing like that -- but I never really had before.”
In the end, May Your Kindness Remain finds Andrews at home in her restlessness, embracing her intuition. It has stretched her vocals, her sound and her songwriting to new depths and produced a brave record -- a record that is unafraid of addressing the complexities of life in order to find common ground and understanding, no matter how divided this world may seem.
“To make an impact as an artist, you have to make people a little uncomfortable,” says Samantha Crain. The musician believed so strongly in this ethos, that she started by shaking up her approach to songwriting. By radically rethinking the way she wrote and recorded her fifth album, You Had Me at Goodbye (out March 24 on Ramseur Records), Crain has managed to put her wholly original aural fingerprint on pop music.
“Oh, Dear Louis,” the release’s first single, makes no mistake of Crain’s new voice. Brightly harmonic, it deftly bridges the song’s off-kilter rhythms with sharp strings. “Many pop songs have a lot of cool key changes, modulations, clever lyrics,” she says. “I wanted to show that pop music isn’t usually common, uneducated, or uncreative.”
Until now, the musician’s soulful-nightingale voice had been invested in plaintive, rootsy compositions cut from the Bob Dylan cloth. Based on plaintive, rootsy compositions cut from the Bob Dylan cloth. Based on word of mouth, the organic success of Crain’s debut, The Confiscation, an EP of evocative narratives, had crescendoed into 2014’s Kid Face, for which Rolling Stone singled her out as an Artist to Watch. By the time she dropped the gracefully outspoken Under Branch & Thorn & Tree a year later, Crain- who by then had toured with the Avett Brothers, First Aid Kit, and Neutral Milk Hotel- was anointed one of Oklahoma’s most earnest, underrated storytellers since Woody Guthrie.
David Huckfelt (The Pines)
In the fall of 2017, David Huckfelt left behind the familiar—the comfort of his home in Minneapolis; the camaraderie of his critically acclaimed band, The Pines; the luxuries of heat, hot water, and electricity—and relocated to Isle Royale, America’s most remote and least visited national park in mighty Lake Superior. Six hours by boat off the Michigan coast, Isle Royale is the largest island in the world’s largest freshwater lake, an isolated stretch of wilderness seemingly forgotten by the 20t h century (to say nothing of the 21s t). There, as an Artist In Residence selected by the National Park Service, Huckfelt spent ten hours a day for two straight weeks writing in solitude, channeling the mysterious and lonesome island’s spirits into his stunning debut solo album, ‘Stranger Angels.’
“The island is surrounded by 300 smaller islands, decrepit lighthouses and abandoned mines, lined with shipwrecks, ghosts, and the stories of the northern Ojibway, fisherman, and early settlers,” Huckfelt reflects. “I brought a mountain of notebooks and poetry and history books with me”, says Huckfelt, “and for the first time in nearly a decade, I found the solitude, depth, range, danger, beauty, and inspiration to go all kinds of places in my writing that I hadn’t had the space to visit before. With a sense of place so strong, it was less like an anchor and more like a launching pad to free up and access all kinds of places from throughout my life. It’s easy to travel anywhere in your mind in that kind of solitude, your whole experience rises up from the deep.”
Indeed, the music is both transportive and reflective, focused inwards even as it draws on an abundance of outside influence. Hypnotic banjo and gentle acoustic guitar meet trippy public domain samples and shimmering soundscapes underneath Huckfelt’s stark, raw vocals as he wrestles with questions of fate and faith, responsibility and independence, connection and loss. A thread of deep ecology runs through these songs, but not the cute bumper sticker kind, the gritty, “what-comes-next-if-we-don’t-change-our-ways” kind. “Isle Royale used to have fifty wolves in five packs…” Huckfelt says, “now there’s only one left. Cycles are cycles but it’s the height of pride to think we’re (humans) aren’t the major player.” The title track “Stranger Angels” brings this point home strongest, with the narrator longing for a place “where (he) won’t make the greedy richer”, and the fierce grip of climate change manifests in lyrics like “Wild mustangs starve in the hills outside Las Vegas… and the West is burning like a lake of fire.”
But above and beyond conservation, “Stranger Angels” is a record about “thin places”, those spiritually charged places where heaven and earth seem to meet and the veil between the world we see and the mystical world beyond becomes transparent. On the rollicking blues-carnival track “As Below, So Above” Huckfelt pays touching to tribute to his late grandmother who helped raise him in Iowa, not by writing about her, but to her, as a defiant elegy against death. A former theology student who once wrote and preached sermons in Cook County Jail in Chicago, Huckfelt has gone through the fire of the niceties and dogma of “heaven” and “god” and come out the other end with a worldview fiercely present, concrete and expansive. “Stranger Angels as a title, to me, has a thousand references to what’s left after life and death and experience and loss and love burns off all the easy answers…” says Huckfelt. “The idea of god or spirit being hidden under the opposite of what we think we know, of ancestors and spirits visiting us, screaming in our ears all day long, but we miss it because it’s different, stranger than we expected… And the kindness we give and receive from strangers, the least, last and lost among us. Our cities are overflowing with strange angels, it’s such a mistake when we think we know which or who can offer us something, and which can’t. Every spirit has something to give. Then, when I saw the night camera footage of the moose and wolves on Isle Royale, dancing in the moonlight and gracing the forest with their presence, I thought “stranger angels” indeed.”
The record also draws on deep wells of Native American tradition and spirituality, a life-long anchor for Huckfelt which has developed more fully through working with Native songwriters and poets like John Trudell, Quiltman, Keith Secola, Tom LaBlanc and more. References to the healing and prophetic prayer-visions of indigenous thought and voices are everywhere on this record, including the chilling, epic, cosmic pow-wow closing track “Star Nation”, with the authoritative voice of American Indian Movement activist & singer Floyd Red Crow Westerman leading the way. Artfully weaving the historical, the ecological, and the personal into an elegant lyrical web, these songs contain layers of surprise and richness, as in the track “Everywind” with Huckfelt turning an imagining of the life of a woman named Everywind from a vintage photograph into a ballad in celebration of all women. The elegant “Still And Still Moving” sparkles like sunlight off the waters of Lake Superior as it ponders mortality and the impermanence of everything around us. “False True Lover Blues” stands as a gut punch at the precise place where a broken heart starts to mend, while “You Get Got” starts with notes Huckfelt took of his grandparents talking in bed after sixty-four years of marriage, and travels in a country-waltz fashion into the political and the universal with some help from guest vocalist Erik Koskinen.
When it was time to record the songs from Isle Royale, Huckfelt again sought geographic isolation, working out of a 110-year-old farmhouse studio in Menomonie, Wisconsin. This time, however, he chose to surround himself with fellow artists, assembling a dream team of musicians including drummer/co-producer J.T. Bates (Andrew Bird, Mason Jennings), bassist Darin Gray (Tweedy, William Tyler), and guitarists Michael Rossetto, Erik Koskinen, and Jeremy Ylvisaker, cutting sixteen songs in just three days. Very special guests rallied to Huckfelt’s side, including spectacular performances by Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath on “Heart, Wherever”, “Everywind” and “Stranger Angels”, Trampled By Turtles’ Dave Simonett singing harmony vocals on multiple tracks. Recorded and mixed by engineer-extraordinaire Adam Krinksy (Bellows Studio) the album captures the magic and spontaneity of a gifted band discovering the beauty and brilliance of the songs and each other all at once. Other stellar appearances include gospel-blues master Phil Cook on Hammond organ, while electronic musician and sample wizard Andrew Broder (Fog) haunts the tracks with the sparse, mercurial public domain samples of old-world Americana, as if these songs were coming through a Ham radio in an old ghost town.
‘Stranger Angels’ follows Huckfelt’s latest album with The Pines, 2016’s ‘Above The Prairie.’ Hailed by No Depression as “dazzling,” drawing the attention of Rolling Stone’s David Fricke who called The Pines “poignant stark country” and earning high praise in both the US and Europe, with Mojo calling it “their most beautiful yet” and Minnesota NPR station The Current raving that it “hits so close to the gut that it reminds us that they are truly a singular band.