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Laura Cantrell countrifies New York

By T.J. Simon, September 2005

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After several years playing gigs with multiple bands in New York, Cantrell decided to memorialize her music during some informal recording sessions. "I decided it was time to do some recording to see if the process would be as satisfying as the live shows," she says.

Those recordings later formed the basis of Cantrell's first album, the critically-acclaimed 2000 release, "Not the Tremblin' Kind." This was followed by 2002's "When the Roses Bloom Again," as well as a tour with Elvis Costello and performances at The Grand Ole Opry. All of this led to the June release of her third full-length album, "Humming by the Flowering Vine."

As a recording artist, Cantrell's albums mix likable originals with obscure country and folk covers. "Some of the songs I've chosen to record are more autobiographical than songs I write," she says. "Sometimes, I just find something that expresses an emotion or state of mind so well that I wish I'd written it myself. When I find songs like that, I tend to remember them."

She continues, "I'm a song fanatic. There's nothing more thrilling than hearing a song one time and being able to remember the words and the melody. That's very exciting to me. I've always got my radar trained for good songs that can impress me like that. In terms of something I might cover myself, I look for music that is both lyrically and melodically interesting that I can relate to on an emotional level."

On the new album, Cantrell records songs by little-known contemporary artists including Emily Spray ("14th Street"), Jenifer Jackson ("What You Said"), and Dave Schramm ("And Still") as well as the Wynn Stewart classic (popularized by Skeeter Davis), "Wishful Thinking."

"I was heartbroken when Skeeter Davis died, so this was kind of a tribute to her," Cantrell says.

Cantrell also was able to unearth a lost Lucinda Williams song "Letters" for inclusion.

"A friend of mine had been given a bunch of Lucinda demos that had never been released," Cantrell recalls. "My friend would always mention this tape he had containing the Lucinda songs including one about letters that was really sweet. I had him dig up the tape and loan it to me, and it was amazing to hear these Lucinda songs from around 1980. She sounded so young with a beautiful voice."

She continues, "The song very specifically references New York, which is rare for a Lucinda tune. When you think about the geography in her songs, you think about Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, but you don't necessarily think about New York City. I thought that was a cool personal aspect that I appreciated. I related to the character - a broke young person who came to New York without knowing many people."

Cantrell's original music seamlessly blends with the album's covers. "California Rose" is her tip of the hat to the remarkable life of Rose Maddox, who recorded with her family, The Maddox Brothers.

"Some of the women artists of country's past are not properly acknowledged for their role in advancing the music," Cantrell says, "and I think Rose Maddox falls into that category. So, I wrote my own tribute to her."

On "Old Downtown," Cantrell recalls a visit to the city of her youth. "I wrote it with Nashville in mind," she says. "I was there for a wedding last year and walked around downtown. I went around the same loop I used to walk as a kid and noticed how much things have changed."

Although country is ostensibly the most popular musical genre in the nation, New York City has no radio station currently dedicated to the format. Accordingly, Cantrell finds other means to stay current with the happenings in the country world.

"I'm in a very small minority of New Yorkers that actually receive the Great American Country Channel, and I often check it out," she says. "I have a little club of local folks here in New York who are my Opry buddies. Whenever we see something on the Opry that is worth recounting, emails go around."

And her assessment? "I'm not always thrilled with every single I hear, but I still think there are interesting and legitimate things worthy of attention, and you can't discount them."

"After all, Nashville is not going away, so I don't see any reason to complain about it."

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