There’s always been a strong element of soul-baring and introspection to Courtney Marie Andrews’ music but on new album Old Flowers it feels more stark and personal than ever before. It’s not exactly a surprise given that the album was inspired by the ending of a nine-year relationship, but there’s an honesty and vulnerability on display in these songs that others may have opted not to air.
The overriding feel of the album might be defined by melancholy and regret at something now gone but there’s also evidence that Andrews is an increasingly composed songwriter, her ability to channel personal experience into art growing over the years. On Old Flowers she pursues a line of country music that upholds the traditions of old but infuses them with a modern outlook.
2017’s stunning Honest Life and its 2018 follow up Long May Your Kindness Remain may have had more in the way of immediate, overtly melodic songs but Old Flowers prefers to strike a more discreet, withdrawn tone. The listener is slowly pulled into each track, gently exposed to the narrative detail. It might not always be an easy listen but which heartbreak album is, right?
The album features multi-instrumentalist Mat Davidson and Big Thief’s James Krivchenia on percussion but Andrews is the central presence, delivering the songs in her distinctive, rising voice. Opening track Burlap String sets the tone, as classic country hallmarks and stylistic moderation are combined in a cleanly-produced, contemporary way. “Some days are good, some are bad, some days I want what we had” she sings, quickly embedding the sense of longing that permeates the album. She looks even deeper into her soul on If I Told ruminating how “I know I can’t change, but for you I’d compromise, I’d be on your side if you’d be on mine” trying to sketch out a way forward. Past experiences are begun to be exorcised and a personal route ahead marked out.
Carnival Dream sees her at her most serious as she ponders “will I ever let love in again?” with suitably impactful drumming from Krivchenia. Later on the title track, she bemoans how “you can’t water old flowers” and it’s hard not to want to offer words of consolement to her. Break The Spell feels less explicitly personal meanwhile, benefitting from its broader overall aims.
Heartache has inspired countless songs and albums over the years and if nothing else Old Flowers shows how humans will continue to turn to music for comfort in times of sadness for many years to come. These songs have clearly provided solace to Andrews and it’s likely they’ll do the same for others in similar need.