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Laura Cantrell - When the Roses Bloom Again

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Artist: Laura Cantrell

Album: When the Roses Bloom Again

Label: Diesel Only

Review date: Dec. 5, 2002

These Roses Bloom Twice

Laura Cantrell opens her sophomore release on Brooklyn's Diesel Only label with a telling lyric: "I've been sitting all night listening to my records," she sings. Cantrell goes on to lament her distance from a far-off lover but returns again to find solace in her record player, "humming so dearly in the other room." That song, an original called "Too Late For Tonight," is – like the rest of When the Roses Bloom Again – as much a celebration of country music as a praiseworthy new addition to its ranks. Which is sensible, given the fact that Cantrell originally rose to cult-heroic status as the proprietress of Radio Thrift Shop, her ongoing weekly homage to Nashville's days-of-yore on free-form WFMU. When Cantrell released Not the Tremblin' Kind, her 2000 debut, she proved that she could sing them as well as she could choose them, and When the Roses Bloom Again certainly serves to further that assessment.

Like with Not the Tremblin' Kind, Cantrell cushions her originals in and around a batch of eclectic and fairly esoteric covers. She gives two artists second go-arounds (Joe Flood of Mumbo Jumbo and Dan Prater of Beat Rodeo) as well as taking on material recorded previously by the Schramms, Jim & Jesse, and Kitty Wells. The masterful way that Cantrell and her backing band move between this range of covers and originals, however, is enough to make these songs feel as if they've long belonged together. Unlike Not the Tremblin' Kind, in which a small handful of tracks – namely Cantrell's heartbreaking reading of the Volebeats' "Two Seconds" and her wry and poignant take on Amy Allison's "The Whiskey Makes You Sweeter" – seemed to rise above the impressive pack, When the Roses Bloom Again makes it difficult to commit oneself to favorites.

If forced to choose, the original "The Early Years" might be a contender. Over a galloping backbeat and wandering nylon-string guitar accents, Cantrell delivers a nostalgic stream of memories – mournful yet elegantly restrained.

Lesser singers might wallow in these longing lyrics for too long, but Cantrell keeps it quick and punchy without losing anything in terms of effect. She holds onto notes at well-chosen moments, and the driving push of the rhythm section provides a nice tension. "Mountain Fern," Cantrell's proclaimed favorite of the original songs, is a folky homage to Molly O'Day, a popular performer and recording artist of the late '40s and '50s. It's undoubtedly pretty, with stripped-down instrumentation, understated harmony, and a decelerated waltz-time. "Vaguest Idea," boasts the record's prettiest harmony – a crescendoing duet with Mary Lee Kortes of Mary Lee's Corvette. Then comes the bluegrass bite of Jim & Jesse's "Yonder Comes a Freight Train," a song that scoops back up the shuffling backbeat and provides a nice shot in the arm. The title track. "When the Roses Bloom Again," arrives right as the album begins its slow wind-down. The song, a haunting Carter Family cover, resonates with its fluttering guitar and aching violin.

Throughout When the Roses Bloom Again, Cantrell instills her songs with a grace that makes it seem as though they've been inhabiting her heart and brain for a long time. Instead of dusting off old dinosaurs to inject them with new emotional expressiveness, Cantrell works from inside of her material with a healthy respect for its intrinsic weight. Her ability lies in spot-on readings, not in transformative acrobatics, and the clarity that she brings is more than enough to make When the Roses Bloom Again both a convincing testament to the relevance of country (if it even need be argued) and a beautiful country record in its own right.

By Nathan Hogan

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