Album review: "Kitty Wells Dresses: Songs of the Queen of Country"
Many tribute albums end up being overstuffed affairs in which a litany of famous names offer tossed-off versions of beloved songs by the artist they are supposedly honoring. That’s the opposite of “Kitty Wells Dresses: Songs of the Queen of Country,” on which country cult fave Laura Cantrell offers a loving homage to one of country’s earliest stars. The Nashville-born, New York-based Cantrell dusts off some honky-tonk classics, brightens them with the aid of hotshot helpers and manages to keep a traditional feel throughout.
Compared to Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton or Patsy Cline, history may have overlooked Wells a bit, but as the first female singer to top the country charts, her influence is unquestioned. Cantrell smartly doesn’t try to reinvent such hits as “Poison in Your Heart” and “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels,” concise country classics that have no trouble standing the test of time. Cantrell’s clear voice expresses both vulnerability and sturdiness, serving broken-hearted couplets well (“The way that you two-timed me is a sin and it’s a shame / You even said you’d like to change my name”). The tasteful touches of fiddle and pedal steel keep things somber but never weepy.
Don’t think that Cantrell is strictly an interpreter, though. Opening track “Kitty Wells Dresses” is the set’s lone original but also a highlight that would fit in nicely on any vintage jukebox.
— David Malitz, June 3, 2011