By The Flowered Vine
June 21, 2005
'Humming by the Flowered Vine' is the much-anticipated
third album (and Matador debut) by Nashville-born, New York-based
performer Laura Cantrell.
Produced by JD Foster (Richard Buckner, Marc Ribot), 'Humming by
the Flowered Vine' features ten extraordinary songs both crafted
and caught. As on her two previous albums, 'When the Roses Bloom
Again' and 'Not the Tremblin' Kind,' Laura's own compositions are
some of the highlights. "Khaki & Corduroy" is a meditation
on being a transplanted Southerner in New York City, "California
Rose" was inspired by the West Coast country music pioneer
Rose Maddox, and "Old Downtown" draws on the story of
World War I hero Sgt. Alvin York.
New York figures prominently in both Emily Spray's infectious "14th
Street" and "Letters", a previously unreleased Lucinda
Williams song dating back to her days as a struggling folk singer
living in the city. The album also includes a version of the Appalachian
murder ballad "Poor Ellen Smith," which was collected
and published in the 1927 book American Mountain Songs by Laura's
great, great aunt Ethel Park Richardson, a "songcatcher"
from Chattanooga, TN, who went on to produce the NBC radio drama
"Heart-throbs of the Hills" throughout the 1930s. The
parallels between her and Laura's own life were a recent discovery
Born and raised in Nashville, Laura moved to New York City to attend
Columbia University, where she soon found herself hosting a weekly
country music program on college station WKCR ("Tennessee Border")
and singing in dorms and coffeehouses. After graduation, she recorded
a CD and several singles with the band Bricks, featuring her college
friend Mac McCaughan (who would later form Superchunk and Merge
Records). A move to Brooklyn led to a friendship with John Flansburgh
of They Might Be Giants, who recruited her to sing on "The
Guitar" on the band's 1992 album Apollo 18. He also offered
to produce an EP of Laura's original songs for the Giants' "Hello
CD of the Month Club" subscription service, which was originally
released in June 1996 and reissued last year as The Hello Recordings.
In 2000. Laura's debut album, 'Not the Tremblin' Kind,' reached
an international audience and was championed by legendary BBC DJ
John Peel, who called it "my favourite record of the last ten
years and possibly my life." She recorded five Peel Sessions
and had three songs on his annual "Festive Fifty" for
2000. With the release of When the Roses Bloom Again in 2002, she
was hand-picked by Elvis Costello to open 17 dates on his U.S. tour.
Both albums also garnered four-star reviews in Rolling Stone, and
led to appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, Late Night with Conan
O'Brien, the Newport Folk Festival, World Café, and Mountain
Stage, as well as tours with folk legends Joan Baez and Ralph Stanley
in the U.S. and U.K.
Laura is also the "proprietress" of the long-running Radio
Thrift Shop on freeform WFMU, which airs every Saturday from noon-3:00
EST and is archived at radiothriftshop.com.
"As Laura Cantrell performed 'Khaki and Corduroy,' her sleepy-sad
reflection on being a Southerner transplanted to New York City .
. . the auditorium [Jazz at Lincoln Center] was awash with the kind
of cosmic wistfulness that the best country and folk music can conjure
when it dreams of the past."
Stephen Holden, The New York Times
"It’s Cantrell's voice. . . vulnerable and at times downright
fragile . . . that evokes inner strengths as old as the hills and
as tough as the tenements, a voice that begs to be heard."
Richard Harrington, The Washington Post
'Humming By The Flowered Vine'
song-by-song by Laura Cantrell
To a lot of New Yorkers, 14th Street is the unofficial divide between
uptown and downtown. I personally love 14th street – the Salvation
Army, Union Square, the L train running just below. I think this
song also perfectly sums up the moment when you see someone you’re
obsessed with on the street and decide whether it’s worth
it to say hello or stay safely in the background. I’ve known
Emily, a Portland, Oregon native, for many years and really appreciate
the New York moment she captured in this song.
You Said (Jenifer Jackson)
Jenifer is another great New York-based writer that I’ve been
fortunate to get to know, and this song is from her wonderful 2001
album Birds. It has a breezy joy that to me is perfect for summer,
and Kenny Kosek contributes some lovely fiddle work along with Rob
Burger on accordion.
Dave played guitar with me when I toured with Elvis Costello in
2002, and his band The Schramms backed me on some dates the following
year. I’ve always admired Dave’s writing (his “Conqueror’s
Song” was on my last album), and this was one of a couple
of songs-in-progress that he shared with me last summer. When it
came time to record, JD suggested we try the song with Dave and
Calexico, and later Amy Helm and Fiona McBain of Ollabelle added
some harmony. The song has a lot of depth and can be very personal
or applied universally.
Khaki & Corduroy
This one draws from a specific time and place for me personally:
New York in the mid-eighties when I first moved here to attend college.
It’s really not about anything more than remembering people
that you knew in school, little details that stay in your mind about
old friends that you don’t see anymore. It’s also about
the relationships from that time of your life that are so powerful;
and, even though they usually don’t last, their memories are
still very strong and will sometimes take you by surprise.
A friend played me a rough demo of this unreleased Lucinda song
from her late seventies New York period and it really struck a chord
with me. Some of us remember what it felt like in the pre-email
era to come home from a crummy job to find a beautiful letter in
the mailbox. It was as if every detail said something — the
paper and the envelope, the postmark, the handwriting. The lyrics
reminded me of all those things and stuck in my head for days. Then
I knew I had to give it a go.
Rose Maddox of the Maddox Brothers and Rose was one of the great
female artists of the honky-tonk era. Her family left Alabama in
the Great Depression under the guidance of their mother Lula, convinced
they’d find their fortune in California. When this proved
as elusive in California as it had been in the South, the family
turned its love for music into a livelihood, and was soon dubbed
“America’s Most Colorful Hillbilly Band.” Rose’s
eventual struggle to leave the family band behind to find success
as a solo artist came at a huge cost. She is one of country music’s
female pioneers not recognized by the Country Music Hall of Fame,
so I thought she was due a tribute in song.
I have a great fondness for the country music that came out of California
in the late fifties and early sixties. This shuffle was written
and recorded by the Bakersfield honky-tonk legend Wynn Stewart,
and was also covered by one of my favorite “girl singers,”
Skeeter Davis, who died last year. I wanted to include this as my
own private tip of the hat to both her and Wynn Stewart.
Poor Ellen Smith
(Traditional, arranged by Laura Cantrell)
My mother’s family is from Chattanooga, Tennessee and was
doing some genealogical research last year when we discovered that
the famous “song catcher” Ethel Park Richardson was
my great, great grandfather’s sister. Ethel collected songs
in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee and published the book “American
Mountain Songs” in 1927. She later moved to New York and produced
the radio drama “Heart-Throbs Of The Hills” for the
NBC network throughout the 1930s. This song from her book is a truly
American murder ballad based on real events in Winston-Salem, North
Carolina. As part of the ongoing “folk process,” the
melody is slightly changed and I left out one out of ten verses
in the book.
(Laura Cantrell/Jay Sherman-Godfrey)
This song pays tribute to an old friend who had ill health at the
end of this life and was growing to accept that he wouldn’t
be around forever. He had lived a full life and had great stories
to tell, but he was also sadly aware that the people that he ran
around with for years were all gone. My friend Jay, who produced
and contributed songs to my last two albums, helped me finish the
I wrote this meditation after a real walk in my old downtown of
Nashville, Tennessee. I was in one of those moments when you try
to match the past up with the present to see if it makes sense.
I was taking in a lot of local landmarks around the state Capitol
building, like the tomb of William Polk, the statue of WWI hero
Alvin C. York, and the Life & Casualty tower. I was struck by
the idea that all the things that happen in a place can shape it
and the people who live there. No matter what town you’re
walking in, the monuments show the triumphs and the scars.