Tonight’s much anticipated concert by Laura Cantrell had created such a demand for tickets that the fantastic people at ‘Cosmic American Music’ who are responsible for putting on much of the best live music in the city, had to upgrade the venue from The Old Cold Store to the extremely desirable Metronome and still there’s barely a vacant seat to be found for the late arrivals. Clear evidence of Cantrell’s popularity here in Nottingham, a city she’s played no-less than five times over the years, dating back to 2005 when she toured off the back of the success of her debut album ‘Not The Tremblin’ Kind’ and its follow up ‘Where The Roses Bloom’. Now she’s back with a new album to promote, her first in nine years, the wonderful ‘Just Like A Rose, The Anniversary Sessions’.
Despite having a new album to promote Cantrell decided to open proceedings with a burst of familiar songs, allowing the band and audience the opportunity to relax and get reacquainted, starting with ‘Churches Of The Interstate’ that originally appeared on her debut album quickly followed by ‘Someday Sparrow’ from her 2013 album ‘No Way There From Here’. The responsibilities of parenthood coupled with the recent restrictions of the pandemic have seriously curtailed Cantrell’s ability to contribute either as a recording artist or live performer of late and yet she immediately appears at one with her surroundings looking totally at ease as she leads her exceptionally tight band through another two tracks from her debut album with ‘Do You Ever Think Of Me’ leading into ‘Queen Of The Coast’.
Familiarities over and with the atmosphere in the hall already bordering on fever pitch it was time for some new material with a trio of songs from the latest album, starting with ‘Unaccompanied’, before ‘Brand New Eyes’ and finally ‘I’m Gonna Miss This Town’, all ecstatically received by the appreciative audience. Halfway through this evening’s set Cantrell delved into her 2011 album dedicated to the ‘Queen of Country Music’, Kitty Wells, firstly with the title track ‘Kitty Well’s Dresses’ followed straight after with ‘Making Believe’. Throughout the show the level of musicianship on show was literally jaw dropping, in particular Jimmy Ryan’s performance on mandolin which mesmerised with its composition and dexterity, whilst the following track ‘Big Wheel’ opened up with some blistering fretwork from guitarist Mark Spencer.
Into the second half of tonight’s show and time to return to the new album as Cantrell delivered a sublime performance of ‘Secret Language’, her voice strong and confident, her phrasing and timing exquisite. It might be a bold statement but there is a clear argument to suggest that, as good as Cantrell is on record, live she is even more so, She oozes class. This thought is cemented by the next number from the new album ‘Holding You In My Heart’, and then, as if things couldn’t get any better, she offers up the title track from her debut album ‘Not The Tremblin’ Kind’. The excitement in the hall was by now palpable as we drew towards the show’s conclusion but the quality never dipped with what is probably the highlight from the new album, ‘A.W.M. – Bless’ that displays Cantrell’s ability to deliver a song driven by the political and social unrest in her home country but without any sense of preaching as her vocals perfectly weaved between song and spoken word. Again her phrasing is impeccable. The penultimate number of the tonight is the title track from her second album ‘When The Roses Bloom Again‘ of which an updated version, a duet with Steve Earle appears on her latest release. Unfortunately there is no Mr Earle available tonight, but in truth it barely matters as again Cantrell’s delivery has the audience eating out of her hand. Fittingly the evening’s final track sees a return to the debut album and a rousing rendition of ‘Two Seconds’ and as she and her band depart the stage there is real sense permeating amongst the congregation that we have all been privy to something rather special.
The night’s proceedings were opened by Doug Levitt, a singer-songwriter from Washington DC, who earlier this year released his debut album ‘Edge Of Everywhere’ which earned high plaudits from this magazine. Levitt had originally worked as a foreign correspondent for both CNN and ABC before throwing it all in to chase his dreams, initially in Nashville before boarding a Greyhound bus and spending the next 12 years and 120,000 miles traversing the states of the U.S.. It was here he gathered the songs that make up his album, listening and learning from those of whose life’s revolved around America’s cheapest form of transport.
Tonight’s short set of approximately 30 minutes is made up primarily of songs and accompanying stories taken from the album including ‘Born In West Virginia’ and ‘They Killed Buddy Gray’. Levitt’s demeanour is warm, while his humorous anecdotes mask just a slight hint of nerves as he relates his experiences and background to his songs. ‘Back In Okemah’ and ‘Highway Signs’ are two more highlights from the album and here, as throughout the set, he is accompanied by Dora Pereti on cello and backing vocals whose contribution adds just the right amount of depth and warmth to each number creating the perfect conduit for Levitt’s heartfelt and hard-earned life stories of those so often unseen and unheard. His choice of covering Dylan’s ‘I Shall Be Released’ is an obvious one but in truth offers little new and one can’t help but feel that another couple of songs from his own album would have better served and possibly better received. That said the set was thoroughly enjoyable and appeared to go down particularly well with the locals and in conversation with Levitt during the interval he was able to ensure me that there’s more to come. Firstly a BBC documentary to be aired on 5th November with the promise of more songs from his sojourn across America’s wilderness to follow, which all goes to suggest that Doug Levitt could well be the name to watch in the coming months.