CD Review – Andrea England “Hope & Other Sins”
From the opening notes of “The Thought of You,” on Andrea England’s new CD – her third – Andrea displays a rich melodic vocal that is simply enchanting. It has that Rolling Stones rhythm going on in the guitars – crisp and clear with seductive poetic lyrical twists. She follows the steady beat without getting lost in the clever lyric: “now candlelight is fading and every sound is grating,” — “can’t remember where I left my sanity,” — “I was caught up in a sentimental state.”
All above average lines for a typical country tale and this song alone is rich in memorable lines such as these. The song has a drive that never clutters the quality of the message Andrea England is conveying.
Produced by Colin Linden — who’s been around the barn a few times, has an impressive musical resume and also generously appears on several instruments throughout this fine collection — the show’s still primarily award-winning singer-songwriter Andrea England’s. However, having someone of Colin’s pedigree in attendance, in your corner, on your side, along with the many seasoned musicians that appear on this CD — can be the confidence any talented performer would welcome and it shows here. This is material worth investigating and savoring. Andrea has come out swinging.
The second track continues the rock-oriented guitar styling’s but “Lonely,” tip-toes around traditional country with a hint of country-pop that doesn’t render the song out of the realm of what may be considered real country. Many American “country” artists – and we know who they are – may be popular on country radio but the music they are providing is far from what country music traditionalists would call the real thing. I believe they are aiming their product at a pop audience and not a true dedicated country enthusiast. Though, maybe younger ears would argue with me about that assessment, it’s safe to assume Andrea England would satisfy their idea of country despite what I think.
With this track — Andrea wrings out the last drops of heartbreak from a handkerchief that still has some tears in it. Whether they are her tears or the guy she left lonely I must admit — I have heard some real country today – and her name is Andrea England.
From a tear jerker to the excellence of “Hothouse Flower,” with its sass and vinegar lyrics: “She’ll stay with you like a new baptism stain” to the last line kicker: “you’ve got your own damn self to blame.”
This is not even an aggressive tune but I guess, it doesn’t to have to be because Andrea’s voice is perfectly suited to this blues-rooted achingly good, witty and sarcastic blend of Mae West 2013. Whew…don’t turn your back on this woman.
“A calamity like you have never known.” I could just imagine the torrent a Lucinda Williams vocal would add to this recipe if she covered this jazzy Andrea England song. It’s a subject few tackle and those that do usually go too far with the kick ass routine. Andrea’s not singing in a threatening manner – she’s describing the strength of character in this woman.
“Fools Gold,” features excellent piano by Bruce Brody, that reminds me of Bruce Hornsby’s method. This song is the first one I can call poignant on this collection. While many of these songs are co-written with others, lyrically here, Andrea continues to prove her talent with words is no flash in the pan. The stories are decorated in wonderful images and turn of phrase. Many songwriters sing and write fairly good melodies but to catch that ear with a clever line in a lyric over and over is talent of a rare kind. Joni Mitchell has it, Dylan, Leonard Cohen, John Prine, Lucinda Williams and several others – who are famous.
Despite still flying below their radar, Andrea deserves the special attention for her detailed, concise writing ability and fine voice. She is economical in her approach but the recipe is flavorful, consistent and memorable.
“Laundry,” caught my attention because its melody and lyric smokes with traditional aroma. It drizzles with lemon yet tastes so sweet. Everything about it is simple, and never over reaching. Yet, isn’t it true that sometimes the classic basic tune is the one that sounds the most pure and simple? Especially in a genre such as this? This is a keeper.
“Laundry,” is a song that’s like a little picture book. “I took my ring off for a minute yesterday, there are times when it just gets in the way.”
Only a woman could write a line like that. I don’t think a man looks that deep. He may write about how the whiskey let him down, and how it’s just him and his shadow, or the highway is a lonely place. But taking that ring off her finger – that’s profound to many women.
If The Band had a woman lead singer among them – Andrea England would be a good candidate. No doubt, I hear Garth Hudson playing his sad wrenching notes, I hear Richard Manuel’s piano and distant tender backing vocals. I see Rick Danko sliding his fingers up and down his bass and bopping his head standing beside Andrea. Levon grooving with that steady brush on the snare and Robbie Robertson picking out notes like apples off a tree. This song is a work of art to my ears because it’s imaginative.
But…everyone who is actually playing on this track in real life must have felt something special going down because there is a magic happening here. It was as if they were all conjuring the ghosts of The Band with a woman front and center. I feel as if they succeeded. I played this a few times nestled between Band songs and it fits.
As well as the next track “Drive,” that continues this tradition. “Drive,” also reaps my admiration for the words and the continued ghostly nature of The Band. There must be something in Canada’s water. “Here I am in the middle of this godforsaken road, a little left is suicide… and right, well, I don’t know.”
Without getting into the sad news of what happened recently to a very respectable country singer – this song stings and is also profound. Hits close to reality and sometimes that can be a hard education. We each walk a tightrope – or maybe – we don’t always realize — so do our loved ones. This song could easily be relatable to many people who enjoy listening to country music despite its sadness and tragedies. We look into these songs for possible solutions, remedies, sympathies or just a moment to close our eyes and let the singer….just comfort us.
With its excellent musicianship – and don’t let anyone tell you the sound of a Hammond organ is dated — this will become in many ways a private song for many who hear it.
“I’m Not Ready Yet,” slows things down and while it’s a bit of a confessional ballad Andrea delivers it with no pomp or circumstance. It’s almost bare bones. Stripped of drama but not sincerity. Nothing is over the top here. It’s reflective and the tone in her voice is perfect because you can hear the youth in her voice which makes the lyrics even more believable and attractive. Not everything requires authority in a voice – not when the words themselves convey a powerful message of their own merit. If I had to compare this to any familiar artist just for clarification it would be a song that falls between Carole King and Beth Nielsen Chapman. That’s where this would be.
“Picture of You,” made me smile because if I understood it correctly Ms. England has written a country style song that takes place in New York City. Quite brave. Chelsea, a neighborhood I’m familiar with, the A Train – took it for years. The wallpaper is peeling and I have seen that. The beams are falling down. Not a rat is stirring. Sirens blowing. Candles glowing. Winter’s coming. New York is a town with so many adjectives, nouns and moods. Little tiny words and phrases dwell there and Andrea has found them and strung them together neatly like Christmas lights. Composed in a typical New York song even a Patti Smith would enjoy to perform. It’s quite bohemian in approach and I am not even certain if it was meant to be. But, it has that Beat Generation quality to it, that dust, the fingerprints of wow man, what did she say? The drums are bongo-like, cool sounding, and that walking around New York among millions and feeling alone is prevalent.
There’s a desolate happiness that can make someone feel all is alright with the world even if they only have themselves for company. I admire it because all through the delicacy of the tune – the country pedal steel of Dan Dugmore anchors it strongly with a traditional sound. Gordie Sampson’s mandolin keeps the city at bay with its harshness and simply strings together a loveliness that allows the song to float above the city streets as the singer walks unharmed through the metropolitan darkness. The instruments never intrude on Andrea’s desperate narration. This is quietly dramatic — in a noir sort of way. I see black and white images but when the pedal steel cries there are distant colors of the taxi lights and traffic lights changing and Andrea turning the block to stare into a coffee shop. This time it’s the mood itself that succeeds and is set so right by the music it’s inspiring.
“Trying,” reminds me of the gentle vocalizing of Allison Moorer. The steady cymbal and light snare is like a heartbeat with the ghostly wisps of Carolyn Dawn Johnson’s back-up vocals floating just below Andrea’s vocals. It adds just the right amount of ambience. Again, the song is the best new country has to offer. There’s a story here, it’s not Hollywood though – it’s an independent feature – it’s a foreign picture – it’s a musical photograph of characters in a passion play in just a few short minutes. The previous song prowled New York City and “Trying,” is painting a similar picture. It’s like a windshield with rain and the wipers beat back and forth as the days’ events play out in someone’s memory. The singer rests her head back on the seat and tells herself the story in a reminiscing time frame. Late night FM radio fare – that would be “Trying.”
“Learn To Dance,” is a credible closer – the lyrics maintain their quality and adhere to the now classic idea that in order to be happy a person should “dance like there’s no one watching.” You see, dancing was once considered sinful. But we should let inhibitions go and be brave in a small way. Who really cares? Tom Waits once sang about taking off your skin and dancing around in your bones. Maybe if more of us did this there would be a little more happiness in this world. “Learn To Dance,” could also be a code that simply suggests that we have to “learn to get along.” Take a chance – we only pass this way once after all. “Learn To Dance,” may not be the strongest track on this collection but its message is probably the most important one: The track that sums up the message of hope and other sins.
When the packaging of an artist’s music is exceptional and conveys the music that is contained — I comment on that as well. Andrea England’s music is wonderfully represented by the heart breaking out into birds and disbursing. The Robin MacMillan photographs are equally good. There’s sharp printing with all type, even the small fonts, readable and well chosen. The lyric book is designed very nicely and — myself having been in the printing business at one time – I applaud the work of A Man Called Wrycraft. A job well done.
For more about Andrea England visit these websites for music samples, CD availability and show dates:
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this review / commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of No Depression.
John Apice – Contributor – No Depression – February 27th 2013