There are just some albums you really need to just close off the world to feel the true beauty of it, and that is not a bad thing. I definitely recommend you do it with Gem Andrews’ latest offering, North.
I listened to this new record a few times but something always interrupted me. What I heard was lovely, but I never got to feel what I believe this album intended. Then one morning, I had nothing ahead of me and pressed play and those opening strums to Letter got through to me, with the words, “I write you a letter. I write you a song of all the things I done wrong.” Andrews’ vocals are warm and tender, over the solemn strings of a violin. If you want your emotions tapped into, all the ingredients are here within the first 3 minutes and 23 seconds of this album. Where do we even go from here? Well, we delve deeper as Sing Your Song, a track about a male figure’s ‘Napoleonic temperament’, cuts straight to the core of abuse. You really need a heart of steel to stop the lyrics from breaking you! Thankfully, Lungs has a more upbeat feel to help us catch a breather – but don’t let that fool you, as the subject matter touches on the mining industry.
Gem Andrews has spent a lot of time in the North East of England, and it is where she probably feels most ‘at home,’ reflected beautifully in this album. A great nod to the North East is shown through Andrews’ take on two of the late Julia Darling’s poems, Two Lighthouses and Straight Lines. She works them both perfectly to the core of folk music. I would say North is definitely on the more folky side of music but Medicate is one of the stronger contenders of the country genre.
The song that really strikes a chord is Carole. I was at an Andrews gig in the entrance of the local cinema a few years ago. The atmosphere of the night made attendees feel like they were amongst lifelong friends, and well, they actually were. I might not be in her circle of friends but whenever Gem Andrews is around, it always feels welcoming. So when she introduced this song about a dear departed friend, whether you knew Carole or not, you almost definitely felt her, especially in the lyrics, “you never really let go did you. We’re all wearing your smile.”
As mentioned, I had to listen to this album a few times. It may be one of the most hardest one’s I have written about. Some words come easy when listening to an album but not with North, and it is actually more to do with the depth that Andrews gives it. If you didn’t listen to the lyrics and just played the album, it could be a nice easy listen, but once you lay yourself open to it, it is much bigger and deeper than that. This is a huge testament to Gem Andrews as an artist, a storyteller and simply a human being.