Laura Cantrell: finally saw her live (you should, too)

Laura CantrellWhenever I come to NY, I step off the plane, grab a copy of TimeOut New York, and flip through the pages on the cab ride to my hotel to see if there are any good shows while I’m in town. More often than not, I’m handsomely rewarded (this is NY, right?) Every time I’ve thumbed through TimeOut in the past seven years, I’ve been looking for one name that has consistently eluded me: Laura Cantrell. Finally, after years of this ritual, I discovered when I landed last night that Laura Cantrell was playing TONIGHT at Joe’s Pub in Greenwich Village. I bought tickets and could barely sleep last night.

I first became aware of Laura Cantrell via her appearance on John Peel’s Peel Sessions in January 2001. If you’re not familiar with John Peel and the Peel Sessions, Peel (who died in 2004) was a legendary DJ and man of taste. His Peel Sessions ran from the 60s until his death and have included Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Joy Division, Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Pavement, White Stripes, Pink Floyd, Bob Marley. . . so it means a lot when someone like John Peel says this about an artist (referring to her first record, When the Roses Bloom Again):

My favourite record of the last ten years and possibly my life is an LP by a New York woman born in Nashville called Laura Cantrell. It’s country, and I don’t know why I like it, but it has the same sort of effect on me as Roy Orbison had in the ’60s.

Her Peel Sessions appearance again in April 2001 made the top 125 all-time list of Peel Sessions, right there between Joy Division and Led Zeppelin (yeah, the list is in alphabetical order, but JOY DIVISION and LED ZEPPELIN!)

Like John Peel, I have a hard time explaining the effect that Laura Cantrell’s music has on me. Her voice is beautifully smooth and classic (note: just avoided temptation to use whiskey metaphor), with hints of Kitty Wells. In fact, Elvis Costello said of her: “If Kitty Wells made Rubber Soul, it would sound like Laura Cantrell.” The lyrics drip with authenticity but without a trace of the cloying self-consciousness that you often find in country music made by city-dwellers who are long-disconnected from the places and scenes they sing about. Her music is very real and very simple and utterly remarkable if you like real country music (if you don’t, please move along. . . nothing to see here).

album coverHer new digital-only album Trains and Boats and Planes (available on Amazon, iTunes, and eMusic) is described on her site as “travel-themed, based on the Burt Bacharach-Hal David title track, along with thoughtfully-chosen songs by Roger Miller, Merle Haggard, John Hartford, Gordon Lightfoot, New Order, and three previously-released tracks.” Tonight, the standouts from the new album for me were Roger Miller’s “Train of Life” and Merle Haggard’s “Silver Wings,” but the whole show was wonderful. I embedded a couple of snippets below from my Flip camera using Flickr Video:

There are lots of Laura Cantrell songs from this album and past albums available online, many as mp3 downloads:

I don’t know when or where Laura Cantrell is playing again (the show I saw tonight is the only one listed on her gigs page), but be sure to keep an eye out. I waited seven years, but it was worth it!

(If you can’t catch her live, be sure to catch her radio show on WFMU, Radio Thrift Shop, where she plays other people’s good country music.)

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