Courtney Marie Andrews has been on a hype-train of late. Until recently the long-serving songwriter was most famous as Jimmy Eat World’s one-time backing vocalist, and guitarist for Damien Jurado. But with latest album ‘Honest Life’ ten years of graft finally paid off. Since the album’s release to critical acclaim, Andrews has gone from Buster Keaton handcar to storming locomotive. The jewel in her tour was a two-night stop in London’s Bush Hall, with the second date added due to phenomenal demand. Slick, soaring, and stalwart, the second night’s performance saw Andrews at her strongest.
After rousing support from airy Spanish troubadour (and one to watch) Joana Serrat, an acoustic-totting Andrews led her band to the stage. Without so much as a howdy they breezed into opener ‘Rookie Dreaming’. A gentle toe to the water, the plunge came close behind with jaunty heartland rocker ‘Sea Town’. Pillow-talk and powerhouse, the two sides to Andrews’ coin.
In a gutsy move typical of the hardy Arizonan, a substantial slice of the set was given over to new, unrecorded material. The finger-snapping forefront saw mint-condition country boppers ‘Kindness of Strangers’ and ‘Long Road Back To You’ holding their own alongside single ‘Put The Fire Out’. Part of that’s down to Andrews’ tight-as-wet-rawhide and mostly-bespectacled backing band. The same fellas that recorded on ‘Honest Life’, they brought that same enveloping Americana warmth whether the songs were familiar or not. The perfect denim-clad pedestal for Andrews’ resounding vocals.
Keeping the audience on their toes, Andrews dismissed her band at the mid-point for an ode to her earlier solo work, and the recent rerelease of 2013’s ‘On My Page’. ‘Woman of Many Colours’ saw Andrews alone with her acoustic, and showcased her natural’s knack for finger-picking. Next Andrews took to the piano for the fragile ‘Paintings From Michael’, since no true country performance is complete without a prison ballad. And since it’d also be incomplete without a protest song, Andrews rounded off this intimate trio with ‘Heart and Mind’, a response to a certain President’s comments regarding women.
The next slew of songs saw B.J. Cole join Andrews on pedal steel alongside the band. ‘Honest Life’ hits dominated this stretch, with ‘Not The End’ and the bleak ‘Table For One’ riding highest. After Cole’s crowd-pleasing finale with ‘They Say’, which sounded like a track that might echo from the jukebox at some 1950s Marlboro store, Andrews ditched her acoustic for the long-awaited red Gibson that’d been languishing by the drumkit, and swung into the most boisterous bit of the evening. Power-ballad ‘Near You’ became a thunderous mutation live, channelling Neil Young at his most stadium-baiting, and was followed closely (to the jubilant cries of the audience) by feel-good anthem ‘Irene’.
Andrews took the bold choice to close the night off with brand new material. A risk for any artist, but Andrews shot down any doubters. Not only was the new material as roof-raising in any in her arsenal, but Andrews became noticeably animated as she played it. Usually playing more the Melanie Safka with her on stage persona, letting her crisp songwriting and sweeping vocals hold the audience’s attention, for this final stretch Andrews ripped a page from Janis Joplin’s playbook. Soul-tinged 60s dime bar jivers, ‘Warning Sign’ and ‘Took You Up’ saw Andrews stepping back and forth, throwing up hand gestures, and crying down the microphone with more gusto than ever before. The encore saw Andrews return alone with a third sparking new track ‘Rough Around The Edges’ before calling her band back one last time for a rollicking rendition of ‘Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You’. Because a true country set is also incomplete without a Bob Dylan cover.
In short, Courtney Marie Andrews is everything that’s exciting about the Americana scene right now. Pulling all the best elements of country, folk, and 60s rock, led by a voice that has to power to cut through a hurricane, you’ve got a truly killer combination. And, if the teases of new material are anything to judge by, Courtney Marie Andrews is only going to get stronger