Difficult third album from the exquisite Ms Cantrell...
Peter Marsh 2002-11-20
It's difficult third album time for Laura Cantrell, whose first two releases delighted and intoxicated many (including Mr John Peel, to whose memory this album is dedicated). Now signed to indie label Matador and with a supporting cast that includes members of Calexico, it'd be easy to imagine this record ending up as a trainwreck, derailed by unsympathetic production,ill advised song choices and so on.
And it could so easily have been that way, but hey, everything's ok.From the opening "14th Street" it's clear that Ms Cantrell's ear fora good tune hasn't deserted her. Written by NYC singer songwriter Emily Spray, it's a dreamy slice of bittersweet pop (more sweet than bitter) that I'll probably never tire of.Cantrell's clear, conversational tone maybe understated, but she can deliver the kind of emotional punch that Kate Rusby can (iewhen you're not expecting it).
This is true for most of this record, and especially so on Cantrell's own "Khaki & Corduroy" and the (almost) title track "Bees". Both are beautifully wistful, impressionistic observations that attest to her growing strength as a writer. Even though as ever her choice of covers is exemplary, from Lucinda Williams'"Letters"to Bakersfield boy Wynn Stewart's "Wishful Thinking". The only slight disappointment is the traditional"Poor Ellen Smith"; Cantrell doesn't really convince singing from the viewpoint of a male murderer. There again, it might be my lack of imagination that's at fault here...
The guitars may be a bit brasher on occasion and there may be a slightly more expansive (and maybe expensive) approach to production, courtesy of JD Foster, whose credits include Dwight Yoakam, Marc Ribot and Nancy Sinatra.But Cantrell isn't swamped at all; her restraint remains her most powerful weapon. If "Bees" doesn't bring a lump to your throat, you're much harder than I am. And with a playing time of just under 39 minutes, you're left wanting much more. Lovely.