Nashville native Laura Cantrell is New York City's cowgal par excellence, a graduate of the East Coast indie-rock scene who turned to twang and has crafted several of the finest alt-country albums of the 21st Century. Here's a quick look at her work...
Laura Cantrell "Not The Tremblin' Kind" (Diesel Only, 2000)
New York's singing cowgirl, songwriter Cantrell hosts a country show on renowned freeform radio station, WFMU, and has parlayed her love of twangitude into a full-fledged recording career. Her debut disc showcases her strengths, her stylistic breadth, and to a lesser extent, some of her challenges... For me, personally, some songs are just a little too overwritten and self-consciously crafted... But Cantrell has a lot going for her, not the least of which is a sharp band, culled in part from the East Coast power-pop/indie scene. Folks looking for alt.country that breaks out of the usual ruts of white trash stereotypes, etc., and aims to revitalize the old traditions of well-crafted heart songs might wanna check this gal out.
Laura Cantrell "When The Roses Bloom Again" (Diesel Only, 2002)
Although Cantrell's voice -- almost Mary McCaslin, but not quite -- still falls short, her songwriting is much sharper and direct, particularly on this album's opening numbers. Her band is tight as well: several songs are melodically strong, with an almost power-poppy propulsiveness, and Cantrell is closer to finding an effective tunesmithy voice. The slower numbers still seem a bit muddled, but less so than on her first album -- listeners may have to work a bit to get caught up in her songs, but the lyrics and emotional content are all pretty solid.
Laura Cantrell "Live At Schubas: 6/7/03" (eMusicLive, 2003)
Laura Cantrell "The Hello Recordings" (Diesel Only, 2004)
A 5-song EP...
Laura Cantrell "Humming By The Flowered Vine" (Matador, 2005)
It's a delight to see when an independent artist crafts a masterpiece, particularly someone who's been around for a while and whose imperfections have been almost as charming as their artistic passion. On her third album, East Coast alt-country songwriter Laura Cantrell has crafted a solid, soulful work that may be the soundtrack for many a moody afternoon to come. Backed by East Coast indie-popster Dave Schramm and members of the uber-artsy, amorphous band Calexico, Cantrell shifts from style to style, drawing on numerous influences to forge a sparkling record with several memorable melodies. Unlike many big city altabillies, Cantrell seldom trawls through the depths of phony hick sterotypes to "prove" how country she is, and on this record she goes out of her way to claim ownership of her own urban identity, with songs that place the listener smack dab in the middle of New York, New York. For example, the album kicks off with its strongest track, "14th Street," a walking tour of heartbreak on concrete that half-unconsciously swipe its melodic hook from "There She Goes" by the La's. (Which, frankly, is fine by me. The next song, though, quotes that old Budweiser jingle... "when... you say... Bud!", which is a little more questionable...) Calexico & Co. prove themselves adept at absorbing country music, and when they do add a rock touch, it feels a bit raspy and Neil Young-ish; Cantrell anchors herself to her country roots through a fine, wistful version of the old Wynn Stewart hit, "Wishful Thinking," a plaintive rendition of the ballad, "Poor Ellen Smith," and her own "California Rose," a heartfelt homage to West Coast wild woman Rose Maddox. But while flexing her musical strengths inside a professional studio, with a versatile, ultramodern band to back her, Cantrell also zeroes in on unsuspected depths as a rock-popster, sounding as much like Linda Thompson as folkies such as Mary McCaslin. It's a glorious transformation, and this is an album that might floor more than a few listeners. Recommended!
Laura Cantrell "Humming Songs: Acoustic Performances From The Flowered Vine" (Matador, 2006)
A 5-song live EP...
Laura Cantrell "All the Same to You" (2007)
Laura Cantrell "Trains And Boats And Planes" (Diesel Only, 2008)
A 5-song EP...
Laura Cantrell "Kitty Wells Dresses: Songs Of The Queen Of Country Music" (Diesel Only, 2011)
(Produced by Laura Cantrell)
A pure delight for pure country fans. Singer Kitty Wells was a country music trailblazer -- the first woman to hit the top of the charts and a towering figure in the Nashville landscape throughout the 1950s and '60s. Alt-country heroine Laura Cantrell kicks off this tribute album with a self-penned original, "Kitty Wells Dresses," which pays homage to the queen of country and namechecks many of the great female singers who came in her wake. Despite Wells' resolutely traditional image, Cantrell holds her up as an iconic modern woman, and given Wells' professional successes in the male-dominated honkytonk scene, I guess she has a point: for Cantrell, the stiff-collared, old-fashioned gingham dresses are just costumes and window-dressing -- it's that glint in Kitty's eyes that counts. Cantrell is herself a modern gal with a retro inclination, and she can tap into old-school twang like nobody's business. She finds a powerful muse in Kitty Wells, cherrypicking classic heartsongs and ballads, and channeling the plaintive, true-country vibe that made Wells' work so compelling. It's easy to imagine Cantrell sitting around at home over the years, guitar in hand, singing these songs for fun, harmonizing along with those old records. Now that she's put it down on wax, the results are pitch-perfect, a solid set of traditional, old-school country with strong contributions from numerous talented pickers: steel guitarist Chris Scruggs perfectly captures the simpler, Hawaiian-inflected style of the early '50s, bluegrass bassist Mike Bub thumps along in a minimalist mode while neo-twangsters such as Paul Burch, Fats Kaplin and Chuck Mead chime in as well. This is perhaps the finest album of Cantrell's career and a fitting tribute to Kitty Wells and her era -- a rock-solid set of heartfelt twang. Highly recommended!
Laura Cantrell "No Way There From Here" (Thrift Shop Recordings, 2014)
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