Lucid Culture


CD Review: Laura Cantrell – Trains and Boats and Planes

What goes around comes around: Laura Cantrell is living proof. As “proprietress” of the Radio Thrift Shop on WFMU and BBC Radio Scotland, she’s helped spread the word about a million good bands and musicians and never made a dime doing it. When the show first went on the air in 1993, Cantrell wasn’t even a musician, but by singing along in the studio, she discovered she had something of an aptitude for vocals (understatement of the century). The rest is history: seven albums later, the late John Peel’s favorite singer owns a devoted worldwide following. Many consider her this generation’s greatest country singer, although she’s proven herself equally good at numerous other styles. This, her latest cd, is a loosely conceptual collection of songs about travel and a welcome return to the country genre. As usual, the mostly acoustic instrumentation is terse and tasteful to a fault, Jimmy Ryan’s mandolin generally serving as the lead instrument, with acoustic and electric guitar augmented with occasional violin and keys.


The cd kicks off with the Bacharach/David title track, a nice accordion intro from Ted Reichman followed by the ever-present mandolin and then that gorgeous, instantly recognizable voice. With the casual twang of her native Nashville, Cantrell will often end a phrase on a careful, questioning note: it’s awfully affecting, particularly when she goes way, way up for some real high notes. She’s never sounded better. Nice, minimalist acoustic guitar solo from ex-Blood Oranges axeman Mark Spencer, too.


The next cut, Train of Life is a midtempo, backbeat-driven country ballad with a quietly determined feel, something of a Cantrell trademark: “I sit alone at my table and watch all the others have fun,” she sings in the beginning of the song, but by the end she’s ready to go off and find her destiny. The cover of the Gordon Lightfoot hit Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald begins with a blast of fiery electric guitars. Cantrell’s vocals on the first verse are already ominous, foreshadowing disaster, the slide guitar wailing like the winter wind  (and with a completely different hook than the one on the original). Howard Hughes Blues, a fast, oldtimey-flavored minor-key song with a rousing bluegrass chorus makes fun of “all his things.” It’s a fun addition to the numerous other Howard Hughes songs out there, especially the one by Rasputina and the Boomtown Rats’ Me and Howard Hughes. Cantrell’s version of the old 1985 New Order hit Love Vigilantes is brilliantly recast as a slow, mandolin-spiked antiwar ballad.


The single best cut on the cd is Silver Wings, a beautiful midtempo ballad with a vivid piano intro and violin from Jenny Scheinman. The album concludes with Roll Truck Roll, an acoustic rock song set to a fast shuffle beat; Big Wheel, a remake of the big audience favorite from her album Not the Tremblin Kind and another crowd-pleaser, Yonder Comes a Freight Train. Fans of Cantrell’s early work, especially, will be delighted; this cd is a clinic in good taste and yet another showcase for one of the world’s most gently powerful voices.

October 19, 2008 - Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , ,

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