By Helen Jerome
This is Laura Cantrell at the top of her game, embracing and pushing at the edges of Americana, roping in her musical pals, getting in some heartfelt politics and presenting us with something entirely joyous yet thoughtful.
1. Push the Swing
2. Bide My Time
3. Brand New Eyes
4. Just Like a Rose
5. When the Roses Bloom Again
6. Secret Language
8. I'm Gonna Miss This Town
9. Good Morning Mr. Afternoon
10. Holding You in My Heart
Using various producers, co-writers and collaborators across this album – recorded in a handful of locations from Nashville to New York – this feels like Laura Cantrell has thrown caution to the winds, taken her foot off the brakes and is steering us headlong towards a multitude of her musical passions.
Championed by tastemakers Bob Harris and the late John Peel, Cantrell has herself become something of a tastemaker in recent years, notably with some excellent curating and DJ’ing on subjects from roots music to her idol, George Harrison.
Now she’s back to her main occupation, creating a richly textured and uplifting Americana album that nods back to her debut from two decades ago, Not The Tremblin’ Kind, and the follow-up When The Roses Bloom Again. Indeed, she even revisits and reimagines the latter’s title track in the middle of this new record, with a little help from her longtime friends, Steve Earle and Buddy Miller.
Kicking off with ‘Push the Swing’ with its soaring organ, feeling of release and full-on swang, you’re instantly reminded of prime Lucinda Williams, and there’s surely no higher praise.
Following this up with the olde schoole country of ‘Bide My Time’ Cantrell has fun with the idea of being immersed in sadness until it’s time to move along, with slabs of steel guitar further countrifying it.
There’s also a wistful, aching quality about ‘Unaccompanied’ and the meditative, evocative ‘I’m Gonna Miss This Town’, both co-written with Fred Wilhelm and produced by David Mansfield.
By grouping a couple of Rosie Flores-produced tracks together – a cover of Amy Rigby’s ‘Brand New Eyes’ and a Cantrell original ‘Just Like a Rose’ – they enhance the drama. The gloriously punchy cover has such fabulous girl group harmonies you can almost see the beehive hairdos, and the fun, jaunty character study straight after, sounds like it might just be about Flores herself.
Pivotal number ‘When the Roses Bloom Again’ refreshes her own classic song, notably duetting with her friend Steve Earle, getting a touch of Celtic magic from Ivan Goff on Uilleann pipes, some fiery drumming from Shawn Pelton, and the legendary Buddy Miller on guitar.
Talking of friends, Lambchop’s Paul Burch and his current band are also here on ‘Secret Language’ and ‘Good Morning Mr Afternoon’, with the latter arranged like something ripe for a Sunday afternoon tea dance, with brushed drums, gentle guitars nudging towards ‘Mr Sandman’.
This album shows Laura Cantrell at the top of her game, embracing and pushing at the edges of Americana, roping in her musical pals, getting in some heartfelt politics about Angry White Men on the half-spoken closing track, and presenting us with something entirely joyous yet thoughtful. It raises the bar considerably, and really ups the anticipation for her upcoming tour.
Laura Cantrell's 2023 album, Just Like A Rose: The Anniversary Sessions, is out on June 9th via Propeller Sound Recordings.