Courtney Marie Andrews – Loose Future: Album Review

Intimate expressions of summer vibrancy from Phoenix, Arizona siren – Courtney Marie Andrews.

Release Date:  7th October 2022

Label: Fat Possum Records

Formats: CD / Vinyl / Cassette / Download / Streaming

It’s a couple of years since we last heard from Phoenix, Arizona singer, songwriter and siren Courtney Marie Andrews.  Back in August 2020, we were mightily impressed by her third album, Old Flowers, and it seems as though we weren’t alone in our admiration.  Uncut, Rolling Stone and even The New York Times were equally generous with their praise of what we called “A stunning collection of bittersweet breakup songs,” and Old Flowers went on to receive a 2020 Grammy nomination for the Best Americana album award, as well as featuring in year-end “Best of” lists in publications on both sides of the Atlantic.

And now, Courtney is back, with a new collection that builds on the successes of Old Flowers, whilst following brighter, happier themes inspired by the vibrancy of a warm Cape Cod summer.  Recorded at Flying Cloud Studio in the New York Catskills, with the help of producer Sam Evian, drummer Chris Bear and multi-instrumentalist Josh Kaufman, Loose Future is a triumphant return indeed.

Regular readers will know that Courtney has been around for quite some time; she played in punk bands whilst still in high school and was a touring member of Arizona rock band Jimmy Eat World from the tender age of 18.  She released her first solo album, Honest Life, back in 2016 and, since then, the direction has been up, up and away.

In preparation for the Loose Future sessions, Courtney committed herself to writing a song a day, every day.  She confined herself to the environs of a beach shack on the Cape Cod shore and would take walks around the local trails, perusing her surroundings and old memories in search of inspiration.  It worked, and the results are embodied in the ten songs that, together, make up Loose Future.  After calling Producer Sam over to the Catskills, Courtney would prepare herself for each day’s recording by taking a dip in the nearby creek – she said that it “…embodied the feeling of letting love in.  Taking the dip is what letting love in feels like.  Sometimes you plunge and sometimes you walk slowly in.”

Loose Future is, indeed, a delightful collection of songs.  The centrepiece of any Courtney Marie Andrews album is that clear, stunningly beautiful voice of hers – its default tone bears favourable comparison with Joni Mitchell, but she’s also well capable of loosening up into an Emmylou Harris frame of mind and even of taking on a sultry delivery that has echoes of Lucinda Williams.  But there’s more to Courtney than JUST that voice.  Her songs are well constructed, with lyrics that pour out like a mountain stream in full flow and tunes that never fail to enrapture.  The musicianship and choice of instrumentation are good too.  Courtney’s songs are usually strong enough to stand alone with the lightest of backings – acoustic guitar and backing vocal harmonies will generally do just fine, thanks – but subtle use of light percussion, splashes of electric guitar, a dusting of pedal steel and, even, a few strings dropped in at the right places all provide just the right levels of enhancement.  If I have a concern at all, it’s a tendency to sometimes overuse synth effects which occasionally – to my mind at least – sometimes introduce an unnecessary level of gimmickry to songs that, quite frankly, don’t need it.  However, I suspect that I may amongst a minority who will take that view and maybe I’m just being too picky…

Loose Future, the album’s title track gets this collection off to a rollicking start.  To a backing of twangy banjo and a bass and guitar rhythm that hits an almost reggae groove, Courtney delivers a light, bright vocal that sounds as close to Joni as I’ve ever heard her get.  And the pedal steel soars and fascinates throughout!  On the song’s upbeat lyrical message, Courtney remarked: “The future is loose.  I’m not in denial of the darkness, but I’m trying to allow self-love and acceptance grow in my life.  I’m not covering up the dark either, because we have to fight it constantly.  We can welcome goodness and love into our lives to shine on these pockets of darkness.”

Courtney’s vocals are at their intimate and introspective best for the mellow On The Line as, to the softest of soft guitar backings, she asks “Why do I give you the satisfaction of knowing I still care?”  The song builds gloriously as, first, drums, bass and electric guitar drop in and then, 45 seconds later, the strings join in the fun.  Satellite, the album’s first single captures, perhaps more than any other song on the album, that sought-after essence of summer.  Courtney’s vocals are divine and the acoustic guitars and the song’s gentle rhythm both add to that lazy July vibe.  I’m not convinced about the splashes of spacy synth, but I guess they do help to emphasise the wonderment expressed in the song’s lyrics.

That wonderful summery feeling is there, too, in These Are The Good Old Days, as Courtney packs her deliciously wordy observational lyrics into the space available, over a relaxed, laid-back rhythm.  With a full band sound, strings and the slightest hints of pedal steel, the bright, country-tinged I’ll Be Thinkin’ on You is, without doubt, the richest sounding track on the album, and it rocks – nice and softly – in a Fleetwood Mac kind of way.

Perhaps my favourite song of all is You Do What You Want, another of the album’s more overtly country-flavoured songs.  It’s a song that, somehow, reminds me a little of Lucinda’s Drunken Angel – in delivery more than in content – and Sam’s production is spot-on.  The electric guitar and pedal steel parts fit perfectly and Courtney’s vocal is relaxed in a way that allows the listener to savour it to the full.

My concerns regarding the synth use are, perhaps, most acute in relation to the ethereal Let Her Go.  It’s a truly excellent song and I particularly love Courtney’s multi-tracked harmonies, but I do feel that the spacy synth lines – apparently intended to add to the otherworldliness of the song – detract from Courtney’s divine performance.  But let’s not get hung up on a detail – the gentle, heart-rending Change My Mind gives Courtney the chance to show off her lyrical gifts.  Packed with wonderful lines like: “You’ve given me no reasons not to trust you, but I keep looking for new ways to be let down,” it’s a song that demonstrates what a mature songwriter we’re dealing with here.  The strings and guitars mesh wonderfully and, on top of everything, there’s THAT voice again.

Courtney has described closing track, Me And Jerry, as “a song about good sex that transcends the physical realm.”  It’s bluesy and sophisticated with some tasty tinkly piano thrown in for measure.  The lyrics are confessional, to the extent that I felt that, by listening, I was interrupting something intimate and very special, and the passion in the story is matched by Courtney, as she works herself into a “right lather” (a Lancashire expression…) as the song reaches its climax.

Loose Future is a thoroughly enjoyable album – well worth a listen, particularly if you’re yet to discover what Courtney Marie Andrews has to offer!

And, to get a feel for Courtney’s special offerings, you might want to pop into a record shop near you during early October, as Courtney has scheduled a run of in-store appearances to promote Loose Future.  The scheduled appearances are:

7th October:    Crash Records, Leeds

8th October:    Vinyl Whistle, Otley

9th October:    Rough Trade, Nottingham

10th October:  Truck Records, Oxford

11th October:  Resident, Brighton

12th October:  Rough Trade, Bristol

13th October:  Rough Trade East, London

Watch the official video to Loose Future, the album’s title track, here:

Courtney Marie Andrews online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / YouTube

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7 replies »

  1. Good review, John. I couldn’t imagine how she would follow up “Old Flowers,” and this album is a beautiful left turn.

  2. I’m not sure about this left turn at all. Fair play to CMA for having fun and pushing the genre envelope, but on first listen it all sounds a little unremarkable and driven more by the production values than the emotional content of the songs themselves. Which is fine, except the production values are in turn a little cheesy and superficial, making the whole thing sound like a bunch of early songwriting demos. Nothing seems to have been honed or allowed to mature sufficiently – perhaps they needed playing longer on the road to achieve that balance. Maybe it will mellow on me, but with the exception of Satellite, I don’t hear anything here to trouble the sheer brilliance of the earlier albums On My Page or Honest Life. Big, big pity, sadly.

  3. A good and insightful review, but Honest Life wasn’t her first album! It was her breakthrough certainly, but there were five before, plus a superb EP, Leuven Letters which is available from her Bandcamp site. I am not being pedantic in pointing it out, but since you clearly (and rightly) love her music, I’m sure you would love the early ones too. She has withdrawn her first three, recorded as a teenager, but 5th album On My Page is highly recommended: great songwriting and sublime singing.

    • Many thanks for your feedback Ken. I was aware that Courtney had released a few EPs before Honest Life, and I apologise that, for the best of intentions – mainly simplicity and brevity – I called that album her debut. I’ll certainly be checking out On My Page!

  4. Hi Ken, actually two of her earlier withdrawn albums Urban Myths and Painters Hands & A Seventh Son can still be accessed via Deezer, although personally I don’t feel they hit the high water mark of On My Page, or indeed No-one’s Slate Is Clean either. Enjoy!

    • Thanks, Bob. I had selfishly keep quiet about the Deezer thing in case they get taken down! Agreed they are not as good as later work but still feature some good songs, wonderful singing of course, and some nifty guitar playing too. I had to listen a few times to appreciate them, whereas Honest Life etc got me within a couple of songs.

      The other of the three, For One I Knew, was on youtube as a playlist but may have been taken down.

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