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Laura Cantrell Reminds Fans Why They Missed Her

Monday, August 11, 2008

After a nearly three-year break following the birth of her first child, singer Laura Cantrell is back with a new album, and her engaging Saturday night show at Jammin' Java served as a welcome reminder of how refreshing her musical presence can be.

With a spry acoustic quartet anchored by guitarist Mark Spencer and mandolinist Jimmy Ryan, the 70-minute set featured several of Cantrell's modestly charming original songs, but soared on its cover versions. Not entirely surprising, given that Cantrell first made her mark with "Radio Thrift Shop," a radio show that explored all corners of country music. But no amount of record-spinning accounts for the kind of deeply felt interpretations displayed Saturday: Amy Rigby's "Don't Break the Heart," Roger Miller's "Train of Life," Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings," and her new recording's title track, "Trains and Boats and Planes," a nugget from Burt Bacharach via Dionne Warwick. Only one cover fell flat -- an ill-advised stumble through Gordon Lightfoot's "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."

Two that came near the end of the set were clearly the highlights: Lambchop's "Cowboy on the Moon" was stripped of deadpan reminiscence and turned into a charming flashback, and the finale, New Order's "Love Vigilantes," was re-imagined as a heartbreaking ballad. Both songs served as a fine reintroduction to Cantrell's unique talent.

-- Patrick Foster

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