Sunday, 16 December 2018

GIG REVIEW: Courtney Marie Andrews - St.Barnabas Church, Oxford. Saturday 15th December 2018

Four UK visits, three gigs attended and a classic album played a ludicrous amount of times. There is no dissent here in anointing Courtney Marie Andrews as ‘Artist of 2018’. It remains revealing whether she grabs the album and the gig accolades, but there is serious candidacy in her efforts on both fronts. This second visit to St. Barnabas Church in Oxford took a twisted path, which ultimately presented an enticing opportunity. Just over a week ago, Courtney valiantly fought off afflictions to meet her Union Chapel engagement, but in the midst of an illness: Birmingham, Oxford and Bristol moved into cancelled or postponed status. Sadly, the former could not find an alternative date, but the latter two had re-scheduled events with Oxford conveniently staged on a Saturday, thus making it more accessible for those making the journey down the M40 from the West Midlands.

There is consensus from loyalists that solo and full band Courtney Marie Andrews’ shows are of equal merit. Having seen both this year, one conclusion drawn is you do not miss the band when she operates in solo mode. Rising to the occasion of the grand setting, Courtney eagerly wanted to make amends for her fans’ patience and duly delivered a single length set falling just ten minutes short of two hours. Apart from the substantive content of over twenty immaculately dealt songs, the quality was of an astonishing level melding perfectly into the compatibility of the surroundings.

While the pairing of something old and something new fell into the set list, it was the standard Courtney Marie stance of nothing borrowed and only occasional dips into something blue. There is a streak of uplifting positivity running through her song writing, weaving in personal experience, perception and viewing the complexities of life through the lens of others. The platform afforded to her this evening encouraged a high degree of revelation leading to thoughts shared on solo v co- writing, an artistic upbringing in Arizona and a personal voyage in securing ‘making music’ as a way of life.

Just like her previous visit to this venue in February, Courtney made use of the available piano and went on to deliver ‘This House’, ‘Paintings from Michael’, a new song titled ‘Ships in the Night’ and the requested ‘Only in My Mind’ on the ivories. The rest came from the acoustic guitar with a slight twist for the evening finale.

Personal highlights from the show form from the alignment of those little moments that allow you to enter a fixated zone. ‘Rough Around the Edges’, ‘Putting the Fire Out’, ‘Honest Life’ and ‘How Quickly Your Heart Mends’ all vied for top spot but ultimately had to concede to the most precious five minutes spent at a gig this year.

When first hearing the songs off the latest album MAY YOUR KINDNESS REMAIN earlier this year, an instant love affair with ‘Took You Up’ was born. From the disappointment of it left on the sidelines at the Nottingham gig in August, its re-establishment via a request this evening heralded a sublime five minutes. From the opening unison of linking ‘journey –destination – love – addiction’ to combining ‘cheap motels, diners and dives’ with ‘calling numbers on the billboard signs’, each line was savoured as a divine moment; a suitable comment in light of the heavenly settings.

Courtney had little trouble finding the notes that give her vocals an air of supremacy. Aided by a crisp clear sound system and the obligatory pin-drop audience environment, everything that makes Courtney Marie Andrews an exceptional performing singer-songwriter was in place. Maybe one moment on the evening that did not hit the expected heights was the unplugged finale of ‘May Your Kindness Remain’ delivered in the middle of a two hundred strong gathering. This common concluding moment of certain gigs generally works better in greater intimate venues, and while the vocals were clearly heard, it lacked the impact of the previous hour and fifty minutes.

There was no need for an encore as Courtney Marie Andrews had supplied the crowning moment, just an extensive meet and greet until the dipping temperature of a chilly setting took hold. Despite a dismal December day in the city of Oxford besotted with Christmas shopping, this sensational warming performance from an artist brimming with creative talent illuminated a setting getting ready for its admittedly bigger date in the coming week. However, for one solitary evening, the angels could at least look down with wry satisfaction on their invited guest.

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