Humming 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 for Laura.

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

"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

14th Street (Emily Spray)
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.

What 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.

And Still (Dave Schramm)
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 (Laura Cantrell)
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.

Letters (Lucinda Williams)
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.

California Rose (Laura Cantrell)
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.

Wishful Thinking (Wynn Stewart)
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.

Bees (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 song.

Old Downtown (Laura Cantrell)
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.