LAURA CANTRELL "Humming by the Flowered Vine" Matador

Friday, June 24, 2005

LAURA CANTRELL"Humming by the Flowered Vine"Matador

You can take the girl out of the country, even set her down in New York City for a long spell, but shake the country from her soul? Fuggetaboutit. If that's not the first and last impression left by Laura Cantrell's new and hauntingly beautiful release, "Humming by the Flowered Vine," it comes awfully close.

Cantrell brackets her third album with songs that evoke her urban cowgirl odyssey. The opening track, Emily Spray's "14th Street," finds her in Manhattan, swept up with the romantic possibilities that might flow from a random encounter with a stranger. The final track, the self-penned "Old Downtown," locates her back home in Nashville, taking inventory of things that shaped the city and her childhood memories of it.

Three songs were written (or co-written) by Cantrell, including "Khaki and Corduroy," a wistful Manhattan-inspired meditation; and "California Rose," a string-band tribute to her own honky-tonk hero, Rose Maddox. The original lyrics sit comfortably alongside songs composed by Cantrell's peers and role models. That comes as no surprise at this stage in her career, since Cantrell has always chosen songs that suit her plaintive voice and seem to reflect her own experiences. If Lucinda Williams hadn't composed "Letters," one of the album's highlights and a ballad about long-distance relationships, it's not hard to imagine Cantrell coming up with something similarly honest and yearning.

Turns out, though, that the oldest song here -- the murder ballad "Poor Ellen Smith" -- is also the most intriguing. Recalling a crime that occurred long ago in Winston-Salem, N.C., the narrative lyric was collected by Cantrell's great-great-grandfather's sister, "song catcher" Ethel Park Richardson.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Tuesday at Iota.

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