In 2018, Phoenix-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews gave us a most powerful blessing: “May your kindness remain.” That beautiful phrase was the title of her fourth LP, and on the title track, she warned that money can’t buy the most important assets in life: “A kind heart don’t cost a dime,” she sang, supported by an organ and a hearty gospel choir. Kindness is a “gift that keeps giving, for the rest of your life.”
At the time of May Your Kindness Remain’s release, Andrews already had three excellent records under her worn leather belt. But this call for compassion solidified her as a lyricist with more empathy than she knew what to do with. On Andrews’ new album Old Flowers, that benevolence is abundant yet again, even though she wrote it following the messy disintegration of a nine-year relationship. On “Ships in the Night,” Andrews remembers the extraordinary circumstances that led to the breakup. But instead of cursing the bad timing (or the other person), she simply wishes her lost lover well: “I hope you find love, settle down somewhere new / And I hope that this world sees who I see in you.” There, again, are the echoes of that selfless sentiment, “May your kindness remain.” Even when she’s exhausted and heartbroken, Andrews is so eager to offer grace on Old Flowers, and that’s why this record will wreck you to your most tender core.
Andrews seems more comfortable forgiving as opposed to holding grudges. But, on occasion, she cautions herself with a bit of cynicism—and a whole lot of regret. Old Flowers finds her wishing she had done things differently (“Burlap String”), blaming herself for not ending the dying relationship sooner (“Guilty”) and then casting the blame on literally anyone else (“It Must Be Someone Else’s Fault”). But she doesn’t retell her experiences with heartbreak only to remind herself of past pains—she also has a lot of wisdom to share with those of us still unscathed (“How You Get Hurt”). Ending a long-term relationship can be one of the most difficult events in a person’s life. But Andrews also knows that, sometimes, that’s the only path to freedom, and she’s not afraid to share the hard truth:
“I did not lie when writing these songs,” she said upon the album’s announcement. “This album is about loving and caring for the person you know you can’t be with. It’s about being afraid to be vulnerable after you’ve been hurt. It’s about a woman who is alone, but okay with that, if it means truth. This was my truth this year—my nine-year relationship ended and I’m a woman alone in the world, but happy to know herself.”
Old Flowers is not a typical breakup album because it’s not angry. It’s sad, to be certain, but there’s actually still so much love in these songs, even though her relationship is in the rearview, as Andrews mentions in that quote. Just listen to “If I Told,” which is full of the promise of new life. “You’re so magnetic, I am hypnotized,” Andrews sings over a gently cascading piano. “Feels like I’ve known you since before this life.” Even though she still cries “more than a person should” (“It Must Be Someone Else’s Fault”), Andrews knows she’s better off—and that love is still possible in the future, as scary as it may be.
While it occasionally loses itself in the past, Old Flowers doesn’t rely solely on nostalgia for its power. Andrews never wallows. She is somehow able to be both full of regret and gratitude at the same time. At its very best, Old Flowers recalls the melancholy piano sing-song of Tapestry and the forlorn love songs of country greats like Emmylou Harris and Linda Rondstadt. There’s also both the brassy production of a countrypolitan star like Tammy Wynette and even the polished alt-country rock of Jason Isbell. But Andrews is singular because she’s unafraid to look back on past loves with ample forgiveness. Old Flowers might make you cry, but it’s also an eloquent reminder that grace is always possible.
Ellen Johnson is an associate music editor, writer, playlist maker, coffee drinker and pop culture enthusiast at Paste. She occasionally moonlights as a film fan on Letterboxd. You can find her tweeting about all the things on Twitter @ellen_a_johnson.