Rookie Dreaming sets the tone for the album Honest Life, an impeccable collection of musings from one wise beyond her years. There’s poetry even in the mundane, the seedy and the fleeting. A hook-up is a “one-night love story” and it is used to define the song’s protagonist. He isn’t merely moving on, he’s missing out: “moving too fast to see all the painting in Paris or the sunrise in Barcelona…too busy carrying the weight of everything.”
Misplaced romanticism continues into Not The End, this time from the point of view of someone left behind at the end of a relationship. There’s a sense that the inevitable feels impossible, as is often true for those on the wrong side of a split.
The interconnected feelings of hurt and hope are plain: “trying to dream up every memory so I can feel closer to you.” Gentle instrumentation, including languorous and sensitive pedal steel guitar, layers up the mountain sounds, but there’s no doubt that Andrew’s pure voice is the most important instrument on this record. Her vocals are imperious and controlled but also warm and soaring, with a country lilt.
Her twang takes centre stage in the mid-tempo track, Irene. The homely homily encourages courage cut with caution. Irene needs to watch out for herself and – more so – for others, for lovers: “you are a magnet, Irene/sometimes good people draw troublesome things.” It’s like a sassy, catchy advice column encouraging cautious optimism.
How Quickly Your Heart Mends is another powerful break-up song. Its realism is stark: “empty promises and a broken heart/hiding in the bathroom of this bar/crossing out your name in my mind.” The feelings are raw, the hurt is palpable and the confusion is visceral: “dancing alone and broken by the freedom.”
The protagonist hasn’t lost her agency, though. As Andrews sings “lucky I haven’t lost my self respect/despite all you’ve done and all that you’ve said” it casts a new light on the chorus. Rather than expressing shock at the ex’s callousness, it starts to seem like an instruction: “go on and forget/act like we’ve never met/leave with your new friends.” This is an exquisite anthem for the brokenhearted.
Let The Good One Go is slow and mournful with gentle piano and steel lines dancing below. The title track, Honest Life, is another simple, tender track sharing the aspirations of an old soul: “my head’s up high and I ain’t got nothing but time to work at living an honest life.”
Table For One is another heartbreaking highlight. Again, the mournful pedal steel sets the tone, and her imperious twang is utterly compelling. The sense of honesty and small details are key for painting a picture with words: “been dancing with strangers/sleeping in the van when the show’s over/I’ve been driving ’til I get tired.” This is immediately followed by the killer line “found peace in the Redwoods/lost it twenty miles later.” Her sound is timeless but her lyrics reflect the realities of modern life, and they resist platitudes.
Put The Fire Out has the makings of a love song, which is a relief if only for Andrews’ well being; she’s starting to seem like the queen of heartbreak! It turns out that a bit of stability, perspective and rest are what’s needed: “now that I’m off this plane I think I’ve ready to stay/wanna live for the now/live for today.”
15 Highway Lines is slow and methodical but, happily, it’s another tentative love song: “Oh, lonesome road/teach me to run/back into the arms/of my darling one.”
For Only In My Mind, Andrews sets the scene with an old timey landscape of cherry logs and chimney smoke. This nostalgia suits her timeless voice. However, the picture postcard scene is soon undercut – it’s not real. In Andrews’ songs, dreams don’t often come true. It ends with the pessimistic tone that’s been weaved through the album: “every heartache could be mended/happiness came with time – but it was only in my mind.”
These are songs of experience. Although only 25 when the record was released in the U.S., the maturity of Andrews’ tone and understanding belies her years, so it’s easy to accept her as a voice of wisdom. Her words are insightful, rich in metaphor and often painfully close to the bone. She’s reminiscent of Jenny Lewis but with an added mournful air helped along by a constant backdrop of doleful pedal steel.
Andrews may be the queen of the breakup song, but what’s not to love? This album is simply incredible.
Head on over to courtneymarieandrews.com to buy the record on CD or a rather fabulous limited edition green vinyl.