From 1999 to 2003, New Yorker-via-Nashville Laura Cantrell hosted WFMU’s The Radio Thrift Shop¸ spinning old-time music and obscuro country for NYC hipsters and beyond.
More than just a tastemaker, she released Not the Tremblin’ Kind in 2000, a charming debut that showcased her lonesome voice and a choice selection of originals and cover songs. If it sounds expertly curated, well, she is an award-winning DJ with a better record collection than yours. Since then, she’s released four more studio albums, including the endearing tribute album Kitty Wells Dresses: Songs of the Queens of Country Music.
Cantrell’s second album, When the Roses Bloom Again, remains her signal moment, though, a welcome primer for all things Americana. Initial reviews promised a straight-up country record, but the collection refuses that label, adding elements of folk, bluegrass, and ’60s pop songcraft to the mix.
“Too Late For Tonight” and “Vaguest Idea”, with their 12-string Rickenbacker chime, and “Don’t Break The Heart” recall the rustic moments of power pop heroes Velvet Crush; “Wait” flirts with psychedelia through its woozy pedal steel and dreamy chorus; “Broken Again” lands her in the company of other honky-tonk angels; and the finale, her cover of Kitty Wells & Webb Pierce’s “Oh So Many Years”, a freeze frame of regret, lowers the curtains and our spirits.
The common denominator is Cantrell’s cracked heart that finds her somewhere between the fading of love’s initial spark and the inevitable goodbye. Nowhere is this ache more gorgeous than on “Early Years”, a song that for a moment almost lets nostalgia have its way. I’m certain that every mixtape I’ve made since this album’s 2002 release has included this song, no matter my agenda– to woo or to impress– or the mix’s genre intentions. It’s that essential.