The venerable Laura Cantrell earned her way into My Personal Music Hall of Fame back in 1992 with her guest vocal on They Might Be Giants’ single “The Guitar”—a full eight years before her first LP, Not the Tremblin’ Kind. But that’s not why you’re here, is it? Ever since, she’s been making consistently well-received Americana country music (she’s got a 78 average on MetaCritic). If you’re the sort of person who scoffs at Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood for not making real country music, stay tuned, because Cantrell’s No Way There from Here is ready to cure what ails you.
Laura Cantrell's career is a lovely example of the virtues of quality over quantity. No Way There from Here is only the fifth studio album Cantrell has released since 2000, and her first dominated by original material since Humming by the Flowered Vine in 2005, but while she doesn't record often, when she does she delivers something special, and No Way There from Here ranks with the strongest and most mature work she's created to date. Like nearly all of Cantrell's work, this album displays a strong country influence, and with Cantrell writing the bulk of the songs for a change and recording in Nashville, Tennessee (where she was born and raised), No Way There from Here feels personal in a way her earlier albums did not, as fine as they were.
In the early to mid-‘00s, Tennessee-born, New York City-based Laura Cantrell had built up a healthy head of buzz on the strength of albums like 2002’s When the Roses Bloom Again and 2005’s Humming By the Flowered Vine. She toured with Elvis Costello, collaborated with Calexico, and by all means seemed to be on the verge of something big when she decided to scale back on her musical career in favor of being a mother and spending more time with her family. In fact, No Way There From Here is her first new set of original music in nine years, though to hear the gorgeously lush alt-country sounds of the album, it’s almost as if no time has passed at all.
It seems like no amount of Nashville can crush Laura Cantrell's optimism. This songwriter's fifth album starts off with an undeniably happy vibe, with the first track, "All the Girls are Complicated," sounding like it jumped off of a shiny New Pornographers album. But it's Cantrell's bright, warm voice that delivers the happiness, even when her lyrics veer toward the lonesome and listless, as they do on the title track.This fine example of Americana lets Cantrell's Nashville leanings show in the spare pedal steel lines, three-part harmonies, banjo and fiddle fills.
With Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark and others reshaping Nashville's singer-songwriter landscape, it may be time for Laura Cantrell, a New York banker(!) and indie-country vet shaped by but not chained to country history. Cut in Music City with local help, her new LP might have been titled for opener "All the Girls Are Complicated." They sure are: See "Letter She Sent," a trio of character studies that go from beat to modestly beatific, and "Driving Down Your Street," slyly using military snare to suggest a lover's obsessive resolve. Cantrell brings bell-like vocal clarity to her stories, which illuminate more than explain – just enough to make you want to hear 'em again.
Listening to No Way There From Here, it is hard to imagine that Laura Cantrell hasn’t done an album of original material since 2005’s Humming By The Flower Vine (her last CD was a 2011 Kitty Wells tribute). The Nashville-bred, Brooklyn-based Cantrell, who has been an Americana music ambassador since starting her WFMU-FM radio program show Radio Thrift Shop in the mid-90’s, and her co-producer Mark Nevers (Lambchop, Andrew Bird) to create a real jewel of album where the music is subtly rich blend of country, rock, pop and folk. Cantrell’s lyrics feel personal yet gently profound and her warm, compassionate vocals make it seem like you are listening to an old friend.
Over the last two years, the British brother duo Disclosure has resuscitated the sound of two-step garage, that late-1990s dance variant that meshed early-1990s club music with the ostentation of American hip-hop and R&B. Now there are followers: Gorgon City’s “Ready for Your Love” (Black Butter) is slightly lusher than Disclosure’s productions, with its plinking water-drop bass line, and with its vocals — by the singer MNEK — that establish a clear bridge between two-step and the soulful house music that preceded it. (See also last year’s mellow and effective “Real” EP.) For its part, Disclosure is beginning to seek out new territory for its mimicry by setting its time machine back a few years.