Laura Cantrell Kitty Wells Dresses
Despite John Peel's early endorsement giving her a certain alternative cachet, Laura Cantrell's albums have always displayed a wide streak of classicism. As a former country music DJ, she was steeped in the genre's traditions and even when she attempted to broaden her sound slightly on 2005's 'Humming By the Flowered Vine', the listener was never in any doubt where her heart lay.
'Kitty Wells Dresses' is her first album since, then and it may disappoint those who were hoping her comeback after six fallow years would see her further develop her individual style. With nine tracks here taken from the catalogue of the eponymous icon, it certainly represents a retrenchment into Cantrell's roots but thankfully it is no less beguiling for that.
Nor has Cantrell tampered too much with the source material and the arrangements do not stray far from the honky-tonk originals; brimming with fiddle and pedal steel. As if to compensate for this faithful, almost reverent treatment, the majority of the songs are lesser-known examples. Only the seminal 'It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels' and 'Making Believe' are likely to be familiar to casual listeners. But whilst Cantrell's songwriting contribution is limited to the title track (which is as good as anything she's composed), the album certainly emphasises the influence of Wells on Cantrell's own work. You can trace a direct line of descent from 'It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels' to a song like 'Not the Tremblin' Kind'.
Equally, even if the focus is largely on Wells legacy, nobody is going to forget that this is a Laura Cantrell album as long as she is singing. Her voice is as captivating as ever, honeyed yet unpretentious, and if Cantrell's vocals are more coquettish than Wells own uncompromising tones, she sounds no less bold. At only thirty minutes long the album is perhaps a bit on the frugal side, but this does at least mean that there is not a single ounce of flab.
Indeed, it is difficult to choose a highlight. However, the title track, her duet with BR5-49's Chuck Mead on 'One By One' and the poignant closer, 'Searching For a Soldier Grave' especially linger in the memory. Whilst it might not be the most adventurous album, it is utterly compelling nonetheless.