Songs Of The Week 2020: Take 2

Neil Morton


It Must Be Someone Elses Fault: Courtney Marie Andrews

A whole album about heartbreak may be too much to bear just now but we are talking Courtney Marie Andrews here, and few artists articulate emotion quite like her. Our Song Of The Week at is It Must Be Someone Elses Fault, an advanced track from her forthcoming release Old Flowers.

The Phoenix-born singer wrote the album while coming to terms with the end of a long-term relationship. ‘There are a million songs about heartbreak, but I did not lie when writing these songs,’ she says. ‘This album is about loving and caring for the person you cant be with. Its about being vulnerable after youve been hurt. Its about a woman who is alone but OK with that, it it means truth. This was my truth this year – my nine-year relationship ended and I am a woman alone in the world, but happy to know herself.

Andrews guitar and keyboards are augmented by only two other musicians: Twain multi-instrumentalist Matthew Davidson and Big Thief drummer James Krivchenia. Andrew Sarlo keeps the production sparse to liberate that exquisite, aching vocal which manages to combine power and fragility.

Feels like I’ve gone crazy

Like the women in my family usually do

We can’t seem to keep our heads on

Long enough to make it through

But I’m still sensitive and stubborn

Still cry more than a person should

But it’s this feeling inside that’s changed

Like I’ve gone bad, but the world is good

We await the arrival in late July of Old Flowers, building on the beauty and brilliance of Honest Life and May Your Kindness Remain. The album was delayed to ensure that independent record stores across the US have physical copies available at the same time as the digital release. Weve had other delicious tasters, such as Burlap String and If I Told, with its plaintive, nagging question Would You? One can hear occasional echoes of Linda Ronstadt, Brandi Carlile and Kim Richey but comparisons have become unhelpful and unnecessary.

Oh, but it must be someone else’s fault

Must be someone else’s heart who tainted mine

No, I cannot be to blame for the story of this pain

Oh, it must be someone else’s fault

As Andrews told The Telegraph in 2018 she learned to sing listening to Aretha Franklin and drank more from the well of Laurel Canyon songwriters than Nashville traditionalists. They wouldnt call this country where I grew up. Im an old man when it comes to music, she quipped, emphasising the influence of Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Neil Young and John Prine as much as Joni Mitchell, Carol King, Lucinda Williams and Carly Simon. Songs dont have a gender. The flowering of this singular songwriting talent has been a constant joy.

No longer a rookie dreaming: Ian Malins appreciation

Arkadelphia: Waxahatchee

Devotees of Lucinda Williams, Patty Griffin and Gillian Welch should be impressed with the latest release by Waxahatchee, aka Katie Crutchfield, the 31-year-old Alabama musician. Song Of The Week at is Arkadelphia: Indie rock melts into Americana.

Crutchfields beguiling drawl guides us through a deeply personal landscape on her country-tinged fifth solo album Saint Cloud. Strengthened by the sobriety she embraced two years ago, she explores the southern roots she once rebelled against. Her recording alias derives from a creek near the family home in Birmingham, Alabama. Arkadelphia, a beautifully dark tale about addiction which takes its name from a road in Birmingham, has a Dylanesque feel. But it is Williams who remains her ultimate role and soul model...

If I burn out like a lightbulb

They’ll say She wasnt meant for that life

They’ll put it all in a capsule and save it for a dark night

When we were kids, free as the air

With a violence craving to turn up somewhere

A tap dancer, a memorised number

An avalanche of the deep red clay earth

Crutchfield told Pitchfork: The song is about someone I have known for a very long time who struggled badly with addiction. It starts with this imagery of the South from my youth and conjures this innocence. Then the middle part takes you into the thick of the addiction: it’s truly dire, it’s life or death. I have struggled, but not like this person did. So it’s just relating to them, trying to connect, and almost feeling like you’re getting ready to say goodbye. At the end it’s this whole thing of recovery and trying to do the next right thing in life.

Saint Clouds stripped-back sound, the calm after 2017s Out In The Storm (a throwback to her punk days with twin sister Allison in P.S. Eliot), helps to project the evocative lyrics, which enjoy a fresh clarity and perspective. I leave my home desolate/ But not alone/ Ive a gift Ive been told/ For seeing whats there, she sings in The Eye. She certainly has.

Arkadelphia, with the Telecaster twang of Detroit backing band Bonny Doon and Crutchfields emotional restraint despite the painful subject matter, could have come from her favourite album, Williams commercial breakthrough in 1998, Car Wheels On A Gravel Road. Hearing it was an epiphany for the apprentice just as her sorcerer was hooked as a 12-year-old listening to Bob Dylans Highway 61 Revisited on repeat.

Crutchfield gained a fascinating insight into her gurus songwriting process for the magazine Interview. Williams’ quality shows no sign of flagging, as her latest politically charged album Good Souls Better Angels illustrates. Crutchfield told Paste: She was this cool black sheep of country music. She was so hard to market because she refused to commit to a genre or pander to what was popular. She is such a role model to me, someone who is committed to the integrity of the music above everything else. That’s all I’ve ever really wanted to do, too. And then obviously, she’s one of the greatest songwriters of all time.

Waxahatchees own storytelling powers are formidable on the title track honouring her fathers home suburb in Florida and capturing her time spent in New York City. Cant Do Much is an uplifting love song but she is at her best when tugging at the heartstrings, as in the poetic Ruby Falls about the passing of a friend (Real love doesn’t follow a straight line/ It breaks your neck/ It builds you a delicate shrine). Crutchfields new sound heralds a new creative chapter.

Wish I Was: Gretchen Peters

A dedication more than 10 years in the making: Gretchen Peters has finally released her tribute album to the genius of Mickey Newbury. Our Song Of The Week at is Wish I Was, a typically dark track by the Texan who inspired Peters to her own songwriting summit.

Newbury, who died in 2002, would have been 80 when Peters album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, was launched digitally. Peters alluring vocal is enhanced by partner Barry Walshs polished piano (and accordion elsewhere), Will Kimburghs sumptuous guitar and the haunting harmonica of Charlie McCoy, who was a regular Newbury collaborator. The album was produced at the Cinderella Sound converted-garage studio in the Nashville suburb of Madison where Newbury made his most memorable recordings such as Looks Like Rain, Frisco Mabel Joy and Heaven Help The Child. Peters is a self-confessed lover of sad songs, and Wish I Was sounds like one of her own beautifully bleak compositions. Heres the 1978 original which was reprised on a later album and retitled Willow Tree.

It was one of the first Newbury songs Peters recalls hearing as a young bar singer in Boulder, Colorado. Im drawn to visual imagery in songs, and this lyric is like a movie – full of beautiful things and that pervasive sadness that Mickeys music is known for.

Wish I was a grain of sand Playing in a babys hand Falling like a diamond chain into the ocean

A grain of sand is all I ever wanted to be Lay me down, let the water Wash right over me, wash over me Peters told Radio 2s Bob Harris Country from her lockdown on the Florida coast that she had used the same Cinderella studio bathroom for her vocals that Linda Ronstadt did for her Silk Purse album. Talk about soaking up history. It helps the listeners mental picture as Peters delivers one of her favourite verses...

Oh I wish I was an old guitar

Sittin in a beat-up car

Hittin every two-bit bar

From here to Texas

Then I wouldnt be ashamed

To look up my old friends

And they would be so proud

To see me strung up again

In Wish I Was and other imaginative interpretations – The Sailor, She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye, Heaven Help The Child, Saint Cecilia and the lovely Three Bells For Stephen – one can hear the influences that informed her own dazzling gems, recorded after Newburys passing, such as On A Bus To St Cloud, The Matador, Idlewild, The Boy From Rye and Lowlands. Surely I am not alone in believing Peters has matched if not surpassed the quality of her heros work. Newbury would have approved.

In a letter to Newburys memory in the roots journal No Depression, Peters wrote: At a time when I was struggling mightily to find my voice, I heard yours... I knew you were someone I needed to know. Listening to those records I heard an echo of my own restlessness. I heard an itch that needed scratching. Sometimes I thought I heard a spark of anger, a sly middle finger aimed at the establishment on Music Row. That well is where the songs come from, and once they do, it’s not your pain anymore. It belongs to the song. It belongs to the world.

You weren’t made for the machine. And the machine wasn’t made for you. Not for your beautiful, crazy, over-the-top records, not for your devastatingly sad and gorgeous voice. I never knew you. But I felt like you knew me. You were a beacon for a young artist trying to make her own way through the murk.

Newbury’s compositions have been covered a staggering 1,500 times by everyone from Elvis Presley, Ray Charles and Jerry Lee Lewis to Johnny Cash, Bettye Lavette and Willie Nelson, but wider recognition curiously eluded him. Now, thanks to Peters, he is unsung no longer. His fellow Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee tips her hat to the huge hit enjoyed by Kenny Rogers and The First Edition in 1968, the bad-trip cautionary tale Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) which was part of the soundtrack for the movie The Big Lebowski. Kimburgh’s swampy Tony Joe White-style guitar and Peters’ bluesy vocal elevate the song to coveted cover status.

I woke up this mornin with the sundown shininin I found my mind in a brown paper bag within I tripped on a cloud and fell eight miles high I tore my mind on a jagged sky I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in I pushed my soul in a deep dark hole and then I followed it in I watched myself crawlinout as I was crawlinin… Not satisfied with one or two cover versions, Peters decided on a 12-track homage to the guru she never met, a country music outlaw before that phrase was coined. We look forward to her next album of original songs. Everybody wants you when youre locked down and out…

Phil Shaw presents his top 50 greatest cover versions

Stan Hey: Three covers a cut above the original

Neil Morton on Gretchen PetersArguing With Ghosts

We'll Make It Through: Ray LaMontagne

We all need songs of hope at the moment. The blame-and-shame lyrics are still being written. Our Song Of The Week at

.com is Well Make It Through, a new release by American singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne. That sandpaper rasp of a voice is beautiful and so is the uncomplicated sentiment.

It is not known if the 46-year-old New Hampshire native wrote the ballad with the pain of the pandemic in mind or if it was meant to satisfy a previous need for comfort. But it is so well timed. Typically with this understated man, the track was released without fanfare. We assume that haunting harmonica, blowing like a desert wind, is his.

I know you’re scared cause you can’t see the light You toss and turn through the night Holding me, and I’m holding you And together, we’ll get through We always do

The young LaMontagnes moment of epiphany came when the Stephen Stills song Treetop Flyer woke him on the radio ahead of his early shift at a shoe factory in Maine. After buying the Stills Alone acoustic album (1991) he decided a musical career was a better fit. He gave himself five years to see if he could find an audience for his intimate songs, and found it. We can detect his other influences: The Band, Otis Redding, Van Morrison, Nick Drake and Tim Buckley. His debut album in 2004, the bleak Trouble, was produced by Ethan Jones. God Willin’ And The Creek Don’t Rise in 2010 earned him a first Grammy.

Loved for his soulful, breathy tenor, LaMontagne wrote a song called Jolene (a darker tale than the Dolly Parton hit) which closed out the 2010 movie The Town. Till The Sun Turns Black, the title track from his second album in 2006, was used on the TV medical drama show ER. You might recall him singing the lovely Such A Simple Song on Jools Hollands Later show in 2018 while promoting his acclaimed seventh album Part Of The Light.

LaMontagne is famously private, even resorting to playing live shows in the dark and restricting the banter. He shuns the limelight, rarely giving interviews. I can’t pretend it’s ever felt natural, he once told The Independent. I don’t like to be noticed, or even looked at. But I no longer play with the lights out. He said his aim was to write melodies that endure. Well Make It Through should be one of them.

Carolina: Sarah Siskind

Few artists leave Nashville for good with their status and integrity intact but North Carolina native Sarah Siskind is one of them. Our Song Of The Week at is Carolina, a catchy, guitar-driven cut from her latest album Modern Appalachia.

Farewell Music City machine, hello simpler family life. Siskind moved back east to her home state via rural Virginia four years ago as a successful songwriter – Alison Krauss, Wynonna and Randy Travis were grateful recipients as well as the hit TV series Nashville, The Wire and Pretty Little Liars.

There are echoes here of Joni Mitchell in Siskinds vocal and the open tunings of her electric guitar. The album is a journey of self-discovery, identity and faith...

Who you are isn’t where you’re from But where you’re from is always close And when you go digging in that dirt Get ready for what you fear the most But it’s a fine line between down to earth and underground

Guitarist Mike Seal provides fine flourishes on Carolina with Bon Ivers Justin Vernon helping out on harmonies. Jazz guitar great Bill Frisell weaves his magic on the anthemic title track in which he is referenced among Siskinds influences with Dolly Parton, Mahalia Jackson and Paul Brady, and on the dreamy Porchlight about unfulfilled love (Wishing it was different doesn’t really change a thing/ Push it to the limit or don’t do anything).

The 42-year-old Siskind, who has toured with Bonnie Raitt and Paul Brady, headed to Nashville at the age of 20 and her song Goodbye Is All We Have was recorded by Alison Krauss, which earned her a job as a staff writer at the Big Yellow Dog publishing company. Her motivation for returning to her roots after 14 years away is explored in the vulnerable and intimate Me And Now (with her friend Rose Cousins on backing vocals) and In The Mountains, a love letter to a spiritual terrain where ghosts are confronted and I can let my burdens go.

What started as a move to live a simpler life and raise my family among the mountains soon became a full-blown discovery of self beyond being a musician, but a woman, a mother, a human, she says. Were finding out who we are, she sings. The albums title suggests a fusion of old and new. The sound may lean more to the modern than the Appalachian but Siskinds debt to traditional mountain music – so ancient, so free, it began to sew the fabric of me –is still being honoured.


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