Laura Cantrell’s fascination with music and songwriting was quite clear in Thursday’s final performance of her month long residency at Hill Country BBQ in Midtown Manhattan. After some good press and an interview with Leonard Lopate on WNYC in the last couple of weeks, the benches and tables overflowed with diners and fans. When the tall and graceful singer stepped onstage, the loud bustling restaurant dropped to a whisper as Ms. Cantrell began a gentle rendition of the Bacarach and David song ‘Trains and Boats and Planes.’
The evening was a reunion with some of the musicians and singers who had influenced her career going back to 2001’s ‘The Trembling Kind’ billed to make appearances, but it says something of her humility that many the songs she performed were written by other people. In fact much of the dialogue between songs was spent talking about other songwriters and their influence on her.
After a couple of songs she was the joined onstage by old friend Jay Sherman Godfrey her long time producer and guitar player and longtime associate Doug Wygal sat down behind the kit. The evening kicked off and Laura’s Vocals soared above the tight and professional band.
She punched out a couple of new songs before a a slightly under rehearsed but charming version of Amy Allison’s song “The Whiskey Makes You Sweeter” with Richard Thompson's son Teddy Thompson. A song Laura described as a ‘drinking song for women.’ Another terrific duet followed with Michael Cerveris from the Broadway show ‘Evita’. When a patron called out to him and asked if he was playing the lead, he answered in the affirmative to hoots of laughter from the crowd. The band themselves composed of Laura’s group from her early days and well seasoned they were. Comfortable with the material and accomplished there were some nice solos from steel player Jon Graboff and guitarist/singer Mark Spencer.
Her transparency about the songwriting process continued when she described her attraction to some less known female country artists. Before launching into a spirited version of her song ‘Queen The Coast’ from her ‘Not the Trembling Kind Album.’ She told the audience:
“When I started to write songs I was looking around for things to write about and I was drawn to some of the lesser known singers. I wrote this song about Bonnie who was married to Buck Owens and her second husband was Merle Haggard, which sounded like a good country song in itself.”
After a barn burning encore: 'Yonder Comes A Freight Train," Laura stepped down and greeted friends and fans alike and sold CD’s from a cardboard box at the front of the stage.
Hill Country BBQ in New York hopes to become a serious venue and ‘the’ place for Americana and Roots music in NYC and they’ve started well. Sound engineer Seth Rothschild maintained a beautifully balanced sound on a well lit stage. There's not a bad view from where ever your sitting and it's a nice alternative to the chi chi supper club style of Joe's Pub and the foods better and it's bigger than the Rodeo Bar which is the only other venue I can think of in NYC that does this sort of thing well.
Neville Elder is a photographer and writer and the leader of the folk rock band Thee Shambels he lives in New York City.