Laura Cantrell’s “Old Downtown” is the second song of the year to reference Nashville’s meat-and-three diners, where you can order fried chicken or barbecue, the iced tea is as sweet as you can stand, and mac and cheese counts as one of the three vegetables. But whereas Deana Carter’s “She’s Good for You” is a take on heartbroken California pop that uses the culinary reference as a bit of local color, Cantrell’s walk through her native city finds her at some distance from both Nashville’s history and her own. Backed by swinging dropped-beat parade drums and echoing guitars, she wanders past the “bullet holes where the armies met” and muses over Tennessee war hero Alvin C. York’s New York ticker-tape parade as an example of time’s “heavy veil of tragedy.” It’s a devastating, and gorgeous, piece of political analysis.
Humming by the Flowered Vine strikes the perfect Nashville-to-New York balance between folkie (and country) historicism and expatriate wistfulness on covers of Lucinda Williams’s “Letters” and the traditional “Poor Ellen Smith.” And Cantrell’s take on the honky-tonk shuffle “Wishful Thinking” exchanges Bradley’s Barn reverb for a spare sweetness that goes down like a tall glass of iced tea.
Laura Cantrell plays Mo Pitkins October 28 and 29, November 11 and 12.