Laura Cantrell's debut album, Not the Tremblin' Kind, is a mix of originals and covers by little known yet superb songwriters like George Usher, Joe Flood, Amy Allison, and the Volebeats' Bob McCreedy -- resulting in an evocative blend of neo-traditionalist country. As a singer, Cantrell doesn't have the pipes of a someone like Lucinda Williams, but, like Merle Haggard, her clear and simple way with a tale or sentiment leaves the listener hanging on every word. Cantrell's own "Queen of the Coast" tells the story of a female country singer from a bygone era who stands toward the back of a stage while her man basks in the spotlight. (Think Bonnie Owens: The mandolin line even slyly echoes one-time husband Haggard's signature "I Am a Lonesome Fugitive.") The era the song nods to is also expressive of Cantrell's sound, which is of clearly different stock than the high drama of alt-country young lion Neko Case or the good-natured folkyness of predecessor Nanci Griffith. Rather, Cantrell's music echoes a truck-stop jukebox circa the 1950s or '60s and such woman pioneers as Kitty Wells. Also, Cantrell's work as a DJ at famed free-form station WFMU allowed her to cull the finest tracks that crossed her turntable, and her ear for the right tunes to cover is clearly evident. On her heart-piercing take on the Volebeats' "Two Seconds," her plaintive voice is used to excellent effect, driving home the primary sentiment, "Two seconds of your love is all I need of you/two seconds of your time, that's enough to say we're through/two beats of your heart is enough to know we'll never part." Another great cover is Amy Allison's "Whiskey Makes You Sweeter," which Cantrell delivers with the poise of a woman who won't make the same mistake twice -- rather than the sloppy, temporary regret the song might suggest. Solid production by World Famous Blue Jays member Jay Sherman-Godfrey and strong musicianship make this first-class, enduring Americana -- with one foot in the past and an eye towards the future.
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