Courtney Marie Andrews
Deeply Passionate and Beautiful Break-up Album.
Having seen CMA (that’s how she signs her autographs btw – I’m not being rude) with a band and solo, I know there’s a lot of debate between her followers as to which musical setup suits her best.
Ever the fence-sitter, I can see virtue in both – and “Old Flowers” should satisfy both sides of the debate, as it’s a more stripped back band album than “Honest Life” and “May Your Kindness Remain” with only three performers – Courtney, Twain’s Matthew Davidson and Big Thief’s James Krivchenia – and this pushes the emotion and heart-rending soul in Courtney’s voice to the fore; piano dominated songs take up most of the album and create an ambience of beautiful melancholy. In pre-release interviews, Courtney has clarified that the album was “inspired” – such an ironic word under the circumstances – by her coming out of a nine year relationship.
As a result, it’s cathartic and confessional.
In lesser hands such subject matter could have resulted in navel-gazing but not here. Focusing on the small moments and making them universal, CMA makes the acute details of personal experience speak to everyone who’s been through similar emotions…and that’s a lot of us.
In opener “Burlap String”, an early teaser release, she states she’s a “sceptic of love” and wishes for the gift of hindsight because “there’s no replacing someone like you” – it’s a razor sharp moment of regret.
“Guilty” which follows discusses the difficulty of letting go and starting again as feelings are still there, based around a Neil Youngesque piano accompaniment.
“If I told”, the tremulous first released track from the album deals with the danger of baring your soul and of the ineffable nature and mystery/uncertainty of attraction.
“Together or alone” looks at the perseverance of feeling from the first moment onwards and there’s the speculation that maybe some time in the future that the pain of the current moment will be softened either “Together or alone” – there’s simultaneous hope and resignation throughout; it’s that moment when you’re not in or out of coping with feeling for the other person.
Mid album there’s “Carnival dream” with its “I may never let love in again” refrain and funereal snare – I defy anyone not to well-up listening to this – it hits deep and hard and in the wee small hours it’ll have you in bits.
Title track “Old Flowers” changes perspective “You can’t water old flowers” – it’s that point where there’s a realisation that something good has gone but there’s the germination of strength – “I’m on my own now – but I don’t feel alone”.
In “Break the Spell” things get harder still – it’s about the push and pull of trying to make something work and the conflicts, truths and lies that we want to believe and yet, deep down know aren’t true – about being in limbo.
If he could “break the spell”, then that would make things clearer and simpler. “It Must Be Someone Else’s Fault” takes the narrative into the realm of self-analysis and self-re-creation “I’ve gone bad but the world is good” with an underlying ache yet acceptance of one’s self.
The intimate “How You Get Hurt” ends on a note of emotional shutdown – if you don’t “let your guard down/You make a move and then it doesn’t work out” then there’s no pain – simple as – no romantic illusion here.
There’s a largely linear thread of an emotional journey throughout the album, but with ebb and flow as emotions well and subside on the path to separation – it’s an encapsulation of a pivotal point in life that many of us have experienced and in exploding the detail of her experience, Courtney Marie Andrews has created great beauty through her shared emotion.
Album closer “Ships in the night” goes for closure and offers a pragmatic attitude and coping strategy and places the relationship in a longer term context.
It’s no less than a “Blue” for the 21st century.
Released 24th July 2020
Review by Nick Barber