FEATURE

Tennessee Rose

The return of singer Laura Cantrell

by Paul Hond Published Fall 2012
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Driving Down Your Street

Photograph by Kristina Krug“There’s an idea for me that it’s finally time to come home to make music, and to knit these two parts of my life together,” Cantrell says, as the Nashville rain beats time on the roof of Beech House. “When you’re dealing with stuff about home, it can be a little bit irrational — you really want things to work out.”

In a sense, the new album is about reclaiming her hometown. “I’ve had an arm’s-length relationship with Nashville in terms of making my own music,” she says. “So it was beyond gratifying to have Kitty Wells and her family acknowledge my work and appreciate it, and whatever qualms I’d had about being from Nashville but not quite of it were sort of resolved in the making of that record.

“There's an idea for me that it's finally time to come home to make music.”

“But what we’d done with the Kitty Wells project was strictly defined country music based on a honky-tonk style made in the 1950s with very specific instrumentation, not really the blueprint for what I need to do with my own songs. So I looked at what else Mark Nevers has done at Beech House with artists as diverse as Andrew Bird, Lambchop, Charlie Louvin, and many others, and saw how open the creative process is here, and felt it would be a good place to start. It’s so ironic for me that when I looked for a studio in which to creatively experiment and let loose, the freest place I could think of was literally a couple miles from the house where I grew up.”

Cantrell rejoins Nevers and Spencer in the front room to work some more on the guitar part for “Starry Skies.”

Nevers says, “Some of the earlier takes had a Buddy Holly thing goin’ that was pretty cool.”

Cantrell has another idea. “What would a Glen Campbell solo be like here?”

Spencer does a “Wichita Lineman” thing. Electric twang, deep and echoing.

When he’s done, Nevers says, “I like the way that one blowed up.”

“Yeah,” says Cantrell, “I liked it, too.”

They move on to the next tune, “Driving Down Your Street.” Nevers plays it back. It’s an airy, chugging, skiffley toe-tapper, a needlepoint woven with regret and longing. Cantrell often sews sadness to sunlight and breezes. Sweet melodies nourish the heart as it bends. Sorrow soothes itself by singing.

Good Night, Nashville

Cantrell’s last song in her set at the Loveless Barn is the first song from her first album. Hearing “Not the Tremblin’ Kind,” Cantrell’s signature piece, a dozen years later, you feel you’ve taken a long journey on the lost highways, the gravel roads. And you have. You’ve lived inside your own country-music jukebox, your heart’s a busted compass, yet you grasp that the home to which Cantrell carries you can’t be defined by geography or weather or a landscape or a skyline or a tree or a house or a song from childhood. You know it can’t be that, because right now, somehow, in a barn outside Nashville, you are there.

When Cantrell finishes, many in the crowd stand up to applaud.

“Thank you so much,” Cantrell says.

“All right!” says Jim Lauderdale. “Laura Cantrell!” He splays his hand on his chest and gives a nod. “Welcome home, Laura. It’s good to have you back.”

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