Sometimes-Washingtonian Courtney Marie Andrews is back with a soulful new sound on this spring's "May Your Kindness Remain."
Courtney Marie Andrews doesn’t really live anywhere. The closest thing to planted roots she has these days is a storage unit in the Seattle area, where the country-folk singer still rehearses with her band. Since the beginning of 2017, Andrews has been a road warrior, touring nine months out of the year and resting her head in a series of Airbnbs in between.
Last she had a stable mailing address — before the indie-circle plaudits came in for Andrews’ breakout “Honest Life” LP — the Arizona native was living in Duvall. Having kicked around the Seattle scene for six years, her vocal prowess wasn’t exactly a secret. But turns out she had another level in her not everyone got to hear, at least on record.
On Sunday nights, Andrews would often turn up at a blues jam at Fall City’s Raging River Café and Club, which she fondly describes as a “podunk kind of place with a lot of really great blues guitar players.”
“It’s a small-town good time, if you know what I mean,” she says by phone, a day after a sold-out London show. “Divey in all the right ways.”
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The house band often needed a singer, so Andrews — who plays the Tractor Tavern on Saturday, May 12 — would get up and belt Big Mama Thornton’s original version of “Hound Dog” and other blues songs. “I would just go for it,” Andrews recalls. “I would just sing as much as I could, with as much passion as I could, and it felt so invigorating.”
Though it was always in her arsenal, that unbridled style she wielded at the “podunk” pub along the Snoqualmie River subconsciously seeped into her songwriting as she prepped her follow-up to the well-received “Honest Life.” Released this spring on Fat Possum Records and Portland’s Mama Bird Recording Co., “May Your Kindness Remain” finds Andrews delivering lyrics about empathy and depression with a soulful new fire.
Andrews is a natural balladeer, her golden voice shining with little accompaniment. But as the leadoff title track crescendos in a gospel wave of get-loose-in-the-pew moxie, it’s clear she’s finally unleashed her full emotional force. Reared on country and soul/R&B, the 27-year-old underpins her tender roots songs with flecks of soul and gospel, aided by organs and C.C. White’s warm backing vocals. Andrews, who got her start booking tours through Myspace as a teenager, began noticing how many of her favorite records (from Little Feat to Bob Dylan) featured gospel vocals and set out to incorporate them in “May Your Kindness Remain.”
“I liked LeAnn Rimes and Destiny’s Child when I was a kid, ya know?” she says laughing. “That evolved into a wider range of tastes obviously, but those types of music touch the soul in a very similar way. They’re more connected than people think they are.”
Once the album was written, Andrews noticed kindness (or the lack thereof) emerged as an overarching theme. Much of her lyrics were informed, directly and indirectly, by the country’s political climate. While the title track was initially inspired by a friend who worried Andrews would change if she relocated to L.A., it took on a second meaning after Donald Trump’s White House ascent.
The most overtly political track, “Border,” sets an immigrant’s story to a dusty, country-blues waltz; the chorus a call for understanding amid the current wave of nationalism. The song was inspired by one of Andrews’ first jobs at a pizza shop next to the office of Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff who supported a controversial anti-illegal immigration law that critics argued encouraged racial profiling. She and her co-workers, many of whom were Hispanic, watched as protesters, both for and against the law, rallied frequently outside Arpaio’s office.
“I saw the look of deep sadness on their (her co-workers) face when a law got passed that they could get pulled over just for looking Hispanic and put into jail if they didn’t have their ID on them,” Andrews says. “I definitely saw the deeper repercussions of that. … Those stories had deeply affected me.”
(The law initially required police to check the immigration status of people they suspected of being in the country illegally, but who had been arrested or detained for other reasons.)
On the heels of another critically acclaimed record, Andrews looks to continue her relentless touring pace this year, returning in July for Timber! Outdoor Music Festival in Carnation, just a few miles downstream from her old stomping grounds.
With any luck, maybe we’ll get some Big Mama Thornton for old time’s sake.
Courtney Marie Andrews. 9 p.m. Saturday, May 12; Tractor Tavern, 5213 Ballard Ave. N.W., Seattle; 206-789-3599, $15, tractortavern.com