Despite being spread over 18 days Celtic Connections still throws up gig conflicts. Tonight Willie Vlautin is appearing up the road promoting his latest book, normally a must attend for Americana fans. However, we’ve plumped for Courtney Marie Andrews on the back of her last appearance in Glasgow when she and her band were in magical form. It’s a mild disappointment then to find out that this is a solo show but that’s a bit like saying that only winning a couple of million on the lottery instead of tens would be a disappointment.
The choice of venue was somewhat odd, a cavernous room more suited to noisy bands, and Ms. Andrews, while well able to hold the audience’s attention, suffered from an excess of reverb on her voice to the extent that some people attending found it painful although as the show progressed this was remedied. A pity as her clear and appealing voice is one of those which can enthral a listener but there were certainly moments tonight when it did just that. Accompanying herself on guitar and occasional keyboard she reminded us of the stark beauty contained in her breakthrough album of last year, Honest Life. Opening with the heartbreak travelogue of Rookie Dreaming she dispelled any qualms about the lack of a band tonight as the wonder of the song shone out. Not The End followed, as on the album, while How Quickly Your Heart Mends, Put The Fire Out and Table For One all featured in the set; that such a sterling set of songs were contained on one album remains somewhat breathtaking.
With a new album in the pipeline we were treated to several new songs, some of them receiving their public debut. Border, about a mean and vindictive Arizona sheriff was given a dramatic delivery while Andrews revealed it had a happy ending as he is no longer in post. Took You Up (apologies if this is not the name of this new song) was a love song to a narcissist while This House was brimful of nostalgia. Kindness Of Strangers, the first single from the new album was dedicated to a late friend from Seattle who died of an overdose and Andrews played it in a manner reminiscent of Neil Young particularly in her guitar playing. The title song of the forthcoming disc, May Your Kindness Remain, recalled Dolly Parton’s writing with Andrews stripping out the backing singers and clamorous guitar of the recorded version for a beautifully understated delivery. She encored with Irene from Honest Life before singing another new song which she said was about, “hopeful mortality,” and which reinforced the occasional Joni Mitchell comparisons which have tagged along with Andrews.
All in all and despite the sound issue Andrews easily won the crowd over and her new songs promise much of the new album which is released this spring.