Courtney Marie Andrews – Old Flowers: Album Review

Courtney Marie Andrews delivers a stunning collection of bittersweet breakup songs.

Release Date:  24th July 2020

Label: Loose

Formats: CD, Vinyl, Digital

Courtney Marie Andrews is a singer-songwriter from Phoenix, Arizona.  A former backing singer for Jimmy Eat World, she’s been around the music business for quite some time and Old Flowers is her third widely available album, following on from 2016’s Honest Life and 2018’s breakthrough, May Your Kindness Return. 

For this latest offering, she’s opted for a discrete sound – the album features only three musicians: alongside herself on vocals, acoustic guitar and piano, there’s Twain’s Matthew Davidson on bass, celeste, mellotron, pedal steel, piano, pump organ, Wurlitzer and backing vocals and Big Thief’s James Krivchenia on drums and percussion.  The sound is soft, mellow and intimate – an ideal mix for a collection of songs in which the consistent theme is bittersweet breakup. 

Courtney herself says, “This album is about loving and caring for the person you know you can’t be with.  It’s about being afraid to be vulnerable after you’ve been hurt.”  I certainly couldn’t have summarized it any better.

The songs are notable for Courtney’s crystal-clear vocal delivery; she is blessed with a truly beautiful voice and she uses it to amazing effect throughout this album.  There are detectable influences from Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris and even Lucinda Williams in Courtney’s vocal style but, overwhelmingly, that voice is hers, and hers alone.

And, at its best, the quality of the songwriting is top-notch; she’s avoided the pitfall of monotony that an album of songs on the same sad subject could easily fall victim to by including a good number of excellent, well-worded, intimate and highly tuneful songs.

So what about the songs?  Opener Burlap String is classic country with strong Emmylou flavourings.  Some lovely pedal steel licks serve to underlie the plaintive vocal.  It’s a catchy waltz tune and it promises great things to come.  Then come three piano-led ballads, Guilty, If I Told and Together or Alone, all of which stick with the breakup theme.  Guilty, in particular, is beautifully sung and the backing evokes strains of Rising for the Moon-era Fairport.  Carnival Dream is a more ponderous ballad which mainly features just Courtney on piano and vocal, until some military flavoured percussion work joins in to add to the drama of this slow-building song.

Lightly strummed acoustic guitar and soft percussion provide the backing for the interesting Break the Spell.  If there could be any such thing as a “gentle power ballad” then How You Get Hurt would definitely fit that bill, and the songs lyrics would touch the heart strings of anyone who has hopes raised in a relationship before having them cruelly dashed (so that’s all of us then…)  The ghostly (pedal steel??) effect that comes in during the coda to this song is perhaps unnecessary though – the song is strong enough to charm the listener without needing gimmickry.

Old Flowers does include three truly excellent songs:  Firstly, there’s the title track, lyrically outstanding on an album packed with strong lyrics.  Courtney compares an attempt to revive a lapsed relationship to the futility of watering old flowers and her vocal delivery conveys her pain and resignation magnificently.  It Must Be Someone Else’s Fault is the album’s first single.  It’s brighter and more countrified (more “Dolly” than “Emmylou”) than the rest of the tracks, and the band are on top form. 

Finally, closing track, Ships in the Night wraps up the Breakup theme with a thoughtful message of encouragement to a lapsed lover, with Courtney’s crystal voice delivering the message over an interesting distorted keyboard backing.

Producer Andrew Sarlo (Bon Iver) has done an excellent job to achieve the sound these songs deserve, wisely leaving centre stage always to that wonderful voice.  Old Flowers should have been released during June, but Courtney decided to delay its release during the peak of the COVID crisis.  Happily, it’s now available and is well worth a listen.

Watch the official video for It Must Be Someone Else’s Fault below.

Courtney Marie Andrews:  Official Website / Facebook / Twitter

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