(Matador Records, CD)
Big Apple-based country chanteuse Laura Cantrell has led an interesting life. A popular free-form radio DJ, Columbia University grad and former vice president of Equity Research for Bank of America, she's more than just a pretty face with a honeyed voice. But, she's that, too. Cantrell's girlish charm and adult sophistication have won big-name fans such as Elvis Costello, who asked her to open for him on a recent tour. The late, legendary British DJ John Peel called her debut album "The best record I've heard in the last 10 years, and possibly my life." Her latest release, Humming By the Flowered Vine, is chock-full of '40s- and '50s-style country that plays like Lucinda Williams at the Grand Ole Opry. Even cooler is that the disc boasts guitar work from Mark Spencer, former axeman for Burlington '80s legends Pinhead.
Opener "14th Street" is a paean to an ex-lover spotted on a busy byway. The protagonist follows him, careful to avoid actual contact. Some people would call this stalking, but such behavior sounds perfectly reasonable when delivered with Cantrell's unassuming sweet voice.
The swinging lilt of "What You Said" draws you in as it breaks your heart. Cantrell weaves another tale of romantic woe, as spry fiddle and vibrant guitar vamps nudge the tune along. "And Still" swells and recedes with assuredness, while "Khaki & Corduroy" waltzes gently, accented by delicate drum work. "One night spent on the cold tough floor and you creep home guilty like before/Learning how to break or bend, broken now but sure to mend," Cantrell sings in a tremulous hush. This track can join the ranks of the great country weepers, right alongside the work of Kitty Wells and Patsy Cline.
There are occasional rock flourishes, such as the heavy backbeat and surging guitars on "Letters." For the most part, however, Humming is old-fashioned country, with "Western" still invited to the party. "Wishful Thinking" has all the hallmarks of honky-tonk, namely a blues-based progression, pedal-steel turnarounds and enough bleary-eyed sentiment to satisfy any last-call barroom boozer.
Cantrell recently quit her banking gig to concentrate on music full-time. Wall Street's loss is music's gain, as Humming By the Flowered Vine exquisitely proves. Authentic voices like hers don't appear very often; be sure to catch her performance with opener Paul Burch at the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge on Thursday, June 23.