Sunday, 4 February 2018

GIG REVIEW: Courtney Marie Andrews - St.Barnabas Church, Oxford. Saturday 3rd February 2018

Whoever dreamt up the ingenious idea of hosting Courtney Marie Andrews in the beautiful celestial surroundings of a church is a pure visionary. Of course, the reaching out of our holy buildings for music of a different nature is far from a new concept, but compatibility could not have been securer with tonight’s billing. There is certainly something in the air about the live music we all love at the moment, with this being the third sold out gig attended this year. This Oxford show, joined Hayes Carll in Nottingham and Lone Bellow in Manchester for attracting the ‘House Full’ sign, and like the other two, the performance came out of the top drawer. The rise of Courtney’s star is rapidly in the ascendancy, especially in the UK.Those fortunate enough to attend St. Barnabas Church were treated to an utterly divine exhibition of exemplary singer-songwriter music.

It is a little under twelve months ago since Courtney played a low-key gig in Coventry, and folks who attended both shows had first-hand experience of the exponential rise. The nature of this short interim tour (no doubt based around the AMA UK awards and Celtic Connections) dictated that Courtney appeared solo, a situation likely to be reversed with a full tour later in the spring. Having now seen her in both formats, the ease of adaptability is assured. Undoubtedly, the setting this evening was very conducive to the focus on a sole individual, and Courtney played the role down to a tee. A composed and often gazed statuesque posture is aligned with the intensity of the songs, and the hour and ten minutes spent in the spotlight proved an absorbing experience for an alternative congregational gathering.

It probably does not need stating, but the sound quality in such a venue is pristine. Courtney decided not to test the acoustics unamplified, but any attempt would have been pulled off. Fifteen songs played on a guitar and two on piano gave us a flavour of the past, present and future. The songs from her breakthrough album HONEST LIFE (which probably now represent the near past) possessed all the flagship qualities, but it should never be forgotten that Courtney has paid her dues in several live formats since setting out on the road as a musician at such tender years. The release of her new album in March is the opening of a brand new chapter, another one in conjunction with her UK record label Loose Music. MAY YOUR KINDNESS REMAIN was previewed this evening via six tracks, with the two attracting instant appeal being ‘Took You Up’ and ‘This House’, The latter was one of the two songs irresistibly brought to life on piano, alongside a track off one of her older albums, ‘Paintings From Michael’.

The opportunity of playing alone lent Courtney in the direction of providing some insight into her songs. While this is not necessarily a prime feature of her stage repertoire, the audience was suitably informed to the background of a handful of songs including ‘Border’ from the new album and an emotive number titled ‘Love, The Only Debt’. This song proved a fitting final piece and formed a three-song encore alongside her 2017 single release ‘Near You’ and the requested oldie ‘Woman of Many Colors’.

However, the focus, and of most other Courtney Marie Andrews shows at the moment, is still the absolute fabulous selection of songs from the highly acclaimed album HONEST LIFE. The seven tracks given a holy airing tonight did not court, offer or really need any introduction. ‘Rookie Dreaming’ and ‘Not The End’ opened the set back-to-back, while ‘Irene’ held the slot as the pre-encore number. The best for me on the night was the brilliant ‘Table for One’ (any song referencing Ohio feeds my fascination with the state) and a firm favourite from the record ‘How Quickly Your Heart Mends’. Throw in the title track in addition to ‘Put The Fire Out’, and you get a fair representation of the album.

To bring some reference of the set list to a close, we head into the territory of the new record, which is starting to seep out, and is likely to be one of the year’s most celebrated releases when the dust settles. The title track was joined by ‘Rough Around the Edges’ and ‘I’ve Hurt Worse’. While it is early days for these songs (many heard for the first time), the Courtney Marie Andrews song writing and vocal sheen is already polishing them up. Just like the previous album, prolonged joy is about to be had savouring, dissecting and ultimately loving the new record.

Credit is once again due to the Empty Rooms Promotions team for seizing upon the opportunity to bring Courtney Marie Andrews to Oxford in a narrow window and giving West Midlands fans at least one reasonable chance to catch her live. This is in response to the disappointing geographical focus of the upcoming full tour. Yet let us park the minor blemishes behind and celebrate being in the presence of a true talent. Unfortunately, competing attractions on the day led to a latish arrival in Oxford and thus the opening act was not seen, but reports were positive. Despite these competing attractions, nothing was going to prevent witnessing the main act.

Many satisfying plays of HONEST LIFE; forays into her back catalogue and a superb full band performance at last year’s Mosely Folk Festival brought Courtney Marie Andrews to the forefront. This show at St. Barnabas Church in Oxford took the threshold to another level. The trajectory is only going one way and having the seat belt secured tightly is the place to be on this journey. 

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