I had seen the name Courtney Marie Andrews. Maybe on festival lineups, possibly on the odd Spotify playlist, and undoubtedly in the tweets and articles of music critics who are much more on the ball than I am. But the first time I heard her sing was at the start of lockdown. The Tallest Man on Earth is one of my favourite artists of all time and when he tweeted that he was doing a livestream with Courtney and Sam Evian I was definitely going to be there, even if it meant listening to a couple of artists I didn’t know at all. It was worth it for Kristian Matson. The show turned out to be a mixed bag – with huge highs and a real sense of intimacy, but also a feeling that these early adopters were still figuring out how a performance such as this was meant to work. But one thing made it all worthwhile. I had come to see Tallest Man, but it was Courtney who really stood out that night. That voice. Wow.
You’d probably imagine that this led to me listening to everything she’d ever put out the next day, right? Alas, no. This was the start of lockdown and the music I was leaning towards was the cosy and familiar. However, when I saw that Courtney was releasing a new album in July I knew that I wanted to spend some time with it. And boy am I glad that I did. The promise I had seen on that livestream was not just a result of a craving for any kind of live music. Old Flowers shows that Courtney is the real deal.
The first thing I should say about the album is that it lies firmly on the border between folk and country. That might be enough to tell some of you that it’s not for you. But if those words have piqued your interest then please read on; you’re in for a treat. Old Flowers opens with three tracks that will be an absolute gift to those of you who like the mix of those two genres. The simple guitar line and gentle percussion of ‘Burlap String’ leaves ample space for Courtney to tell a tale of growing up, becoming more cautious, and looking back at the mistakes she has made in past relationships. These are central themes of the genres, but they are delivered beautifully here. ‘Guilty’, if possible, is better still. With an even sparser instrumental, we get the full power of one of the best voices I have heard in some time. ‘If I Told’ does all the above. It is a captivating and powerful song.
There are maybe a couple of times on the album, on particularly slow tracks such as ‘Together or Alone’, that Courtney veers slightly too far to the country side of that border for me. ‘Carnival Dream’ will be one of those occasions for some people, although its intense build did end up winning me over in the end. And while there were those one or two songs that I could have lived without, they were outweighed by the many highlights. The title song firmly gets the album back on track before leading into four songs that end the album in the same spectacular way that it started.
‘Break The Spell’ is a dreamy masterpiece with perhaps the most intriguing instrumentation on the whole piece. ‘How You Get Hurt’ is the album’s best ballad. And album finale ‘Ships In The Night’ is the archetypal folk album closer, storytelling in full flow and a breathtaking vocal. Resting in the middle of this final four, though, is the definite standout of Old Flowers. Courtney lets loose on this track. It is the most fun, exciting sounding song on offer here while also allowing Courtney to show another side to her writing and performing. If you only listen to one of these songs then make it ‘It Must Be Someone Else’s Fault.’
And for those of you were already fans of Courtney, I realise that I have spent the majority of this review writing about her as if she is a brand new artist that I am introducing. She isn’t. Old Flowers appears to be her fifth album and if any of the previous ones are even close to this level, then she has had a stunning career already. I plan to investigate this in the next weeks and months.
Words by Fran Slater