album reviews

Laura Cantrell
Humming By the Flowered Vine
Matador (2005)

Country singer Laura Cantrell has always devoted herself more toward unearthing and adapting other people's songs than crafting her own. That balancing act worked well on her first two albums, but her latest (and first for Matador), Humming by the Flowered Vine, isn't nearly as cohesive a collection.

Perhaps it's just the transition to a new—and more mainstream—record label that pushes Humming to a glossier, more middle-of-the-road sound. There's not an ounce of twang in the upbeat "14th Street," while a bland version of Lucinda Williams' "Letters" rambles repetitively. As Cantrell trounces and bounces through "Poor Ellen Smith," she merely cements that song's place just under "Wayfaring Stranger" on the list of songs that never need to be covered again.

Surprisingly, though, Cantrell truly shines on her own compositions. The sparse arrangement of "Khaki and Corduroy" highlights her reflective lyrics, and the heartbreaking ballad "Bees" is quite possibly her best song to date, with her melancholy vocals quivering over a simple melody. While Cantrell may be easily written off as a cover artist, Humming reveals her developing voice as a songwriter. And hopefully she'll rely more on her own songs in the future, rather than falling back on a collection of uninspired covers.

-Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: the Baltimore CityPaper: 4 January 2006
.: Humming by the Flowered Vine on