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Laura Cantrell answers where she's been

Club Passim, Cambridge, MA, May 23, 2011

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Laura Cantrell raised the obvious question herself - where you been? Cantrell, who is touring in spurts behind her very fine brand new disc, "Kitty Wells Dresses: Songs of the Queen of Country Music," explained the answer was simple.

She has a daughter, who turns five on Friday. Cantrell made her first appearance in the Boston area since August 2008, quite a long time given that she lives in New York City.

Too bad for all concerned because Cantrell knows a thing or two about putting on a good, educational country show. She pointed out that it's actually in her blood because an aunt of hers wrote a book about Appalachian music decades ago and landed a New York City radio show in the process.

Cantrell played about half of "Kitty Wells Dresses" and talked about her being a pioneering force for women in country music. Of course, Wells, now 91, had one of the greatest country songs ever, It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels, an answer song (we don't have them any more) to Hank Thompson's The Wild Side of Life. Cantrell made the song come alive for the uninitiated, turning in a good reading.

Cantrell pointed out that she had the good fortune a few years back to play a tribute show to Miss Kitty at the Country Music Hall of Fame, which led her to the new disc.

Cantrell scored on such songs as the title track and Making Believe from the new release. The faster songs came off livelier and tended to work a bit better.

The New Yorker by way of Nashville was aided by a very capable backing quartet, spearheaded time and again by the mandolin playing of the excellent Jimmy Ryan, a mainstay in the Beantown music scene.

Cantrell apologized at one point for being too "school marmish," and at some level, she is correct. Coming off as extremely sincere about her love of the music, Cantrell also was on the serious side. She didn't crack jokes or smile a whole lot - not that she was dour either.

Being a bit more easy going would make her performance come off even better.

On the other hand, it was quite refreshing to hear someone in this day and age who cared a lot about the roots of country music and wasn't afraid to say so. Cantrell certainly couldn't do what she loves to do as a major label artist and thus deserved credit for blazing her own musical trail.

Let's just hope that her kid grows up fast.