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Album: Laura Cantrell At The BBC
Label: Spit And Polish
Tracks: 15

Nashville-born, New York-based Laura is one of the brightest shining stars of today's country scene, with a striking consistency of output since her 2000 debut album Not The Trembling Kind (currently being re-released on vinyl) that goes hand in hand with her uncompromising consistency of vision and purity of expression. Over the past 16 years Laura has developed and nurtured a loyal UK audience, not least through constant touring and gaining heaps of exposure on BBC radio. Most famously, it came as a surprise, as much to Laura herself, that the late John Peel was such an enthusiastic supporter of her music, and she recorded no fewer than five sessions for his programme, three of these being broadcast live from Peel Acres (John's home in Suffolk). These sessions are (naturally) all represented on this well-filled disc, which collects together the best of her BBC radio session tracks recorded between 2000 and 2005. Ten of the 15 tracks come from Peel Sessions, the remainder comprising two apiece for Bob Harris and Rob Da Bank and one for Gideon Coe.

There's a tremendous sense of intimacy about Laura's session performances, which just seemed to bring out the very best in her - and her small complement of backing musicians for that matter (firstly Zac Ware and Simon Cottrell, latterly Jeremy Chatsky and other members of her New York-based band). Whereas for part of Laura's very first Peel session, at Maida Vale Studios, she performed a couple of songs solo including the matchless rendition of When The Roses Bloom Again that closes this disc. Scattered amongst the 15 tracks are several songs that Laura hadn't released on studio albums, including New Year's Resolution, Rain Boy, All Blue and a poignant cover of Don Gibson's Legend In My Time - the latter being one of two cuts which had to be sourced from an off-air fan recording due to unavailability of archived recordings (the other being standout The Whiskey Makes You Sweeter). There's also a sequence from Christmas 2003 during which she joined Gordon McIntyre (of the band Ballboy) on his treasurable "tender slip of a song" I Lost You (But I Found Country Music). At the same time, even a cursory comparison of these radio session tracks with their recorded album counterparts will bring some fascinating insights - for example the different, moodier feel to Khaki And Corduroy (originally done on the Humming By The Flowered Vine album).

Well I guess it would've been nice to have the session tracks presented in chronological order, and even nicer to have the complete sessions (OK, we can dream!), but this glorious collection is still nothing less than essential, for even if there were no other Laura Cantrell recordings available this disc alone would be enough to convince anyone of her major-talent status.

David Kidman