Album Review: Courtney Marie Andrews – Old Flowers

[Fat Possum; 2020]

From the very first seconds of Courtney Marie Andrews’ new album, Old Flowers, you get a perfect glimpse of the mood and style of the album. Soft, swaying country instrumentation, tasteful percussion, and a plaintive, gorgeous vocal delivery. “Burlap String” sounds like a classic country ballad that might be soundtracking a melancholically romantic moment in a sepia-toned film.

This may make it sound a bit like pastiche, but that isn’t the case. Andrews is the real deal. It’s evident that she feels and breathes this sound, the rustic and windswept instrumentation, the gently rolling melodies, the flawless harmonies, the heart-tugging soulfulness inherent in her vocals. Old Flowers has an immediately strong sense of place. Unfortunately, that place becomes a little static over the course of these 10 immaculately-produced songs, adding up to a relatively snoozy affair.

It’s not for lack of songwriting or performance ability. On the contrary, Andrews’ voice sounds as robust and lovely as ever, evoking the emotive vibrato of Jenny Lewis and even a hint of the plainspoken directness of Phoebe Bridgers, and the instrumentation gives her singing the glowing and spacious bed it deserves, reminiscent of The Mynabirds’ early work. If you were to listen to any single song on this album, out of context, there would be very little to complain about. It’s only when they all come together that they tend to blur, the album moseying along at a supremely low-key pace.

There are definitely moments across the album, though, that justify the price of admission. “If I Told” is an extremely slow-growing ballad, with Andrews serenading over a sparse bed of dusty guitar, echoing piano keys, and soft ambience. “Carnival Dream” starts as a turgid piano lament, before rattling up with loud drum hits and bellowing cellos. Perhaps best of all is the title track, which strikes a similar tenor as the rest of the album, but with a sharp beat, resounding keys, and a metaphor as simple and powerful as “You can’t water old flowers”, everything coheres just perfectly.

It’s very difficult to find any single moment of Old Flowers that is less than pleasant, as it always maintains a creaky type of beauty that is undeniable. The melodies across the record sound instantly classic, like Andrews rustled them up from some old, forgotten corner of America’s past. But, as the muted keyboard fades out on the heartsick closer “Ships in the Night”, the album sort of evaporates without leaving much of a lasting impression. Andrews is a very talented writer and a genuinely moving singer, and knows her way around an almost-shockingly pretty melody, but from a whole-album point of view, she could benefit from mixing things up every now and then.