It happens to most of us, I think: discovering an album that sounds like it’s been with you forever. Sometimes it’s that the songs are amalgamations that mix a bit of this and a dash of that into a tasty hash. Other times, they’re mimeographed marvels that are just a tad blurrier and paler than the originals, though we sometimes forgive them those sins. (Often, in that second instance, they’re favorite artists whose new works echo their old.) And then there are those rare occurrences where the artist taps into and mines the collective unconscious, and presents their findings in a familiar form.
That last instance is the case with Courtney Marie Andrews’ Honest Life, which was released in October 2016 in the U.S. and in the rest of the world in January 2017. Though I just discovered it last week, it’s as if it’s been with me for decades. In a sense, it’s a simple singer-songwriter album that, due to the age we live in, has been categorized as country because of the country-flavored overtones on some of the songs. In another era, though, “Table for One” or “Put the Fire Out” would have been played by radio stations that also programmed Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell.
There is nothing revolutionary in the grooves, in other words. And, yet, there is everything revolutionary in them. That conundrum-powered clarity, carried forth by Andrews’ evocative vocals and lyrics, echoes everything from Jackson Browne’s Late for the Sky to Joni Mitchell’s Blue, Steve Earle’s Guitar Town to the Jayhawks’ Hollywood Town Hall, to say nothing of Rumer’s Seasons of My Soul and First Aid Kit’s Stay Gold. Each of those LPs, after all, chronicle the human experience in ways that are unique yet familiar.
Honest Life does the same. Many of the songs are about life on the road – moving on, setting down roots and heading out, yet again, and forging (or trying to forge) connections along the way. The album opens with “Rookie Dreaming,” in which a nameless traveler is bound on a train for an unknown destination –
If you listened, you heard the song evolve from “I was a you-will-never-see-me-again” in the opening verse to “I am a when-will-I-see-you-again?” by its last. In between, she chronicles the missed opportunities and dark alleys found on the map of life. Her future – as with everyone’s, regardless of age – has yet to be written. In the title track, she tackles a similar theme, albeit in more direct terms:
“All I’ve ever asked for is a way to understand/all of life’s lessons the best that I can:/How to be honest,/how to be wise/and how to be a good friend./Some things take a lifetime to fully understand.”
It’s a remarkable album that’s well worth seeking out. Five stars, easy.