Saturday, Dec. 16, 8 p.m.
Outpost in the Burbs
First Congregational Church, 40 South Fullerton Ave.
By GWEN OREL
Laura Cantrell grew up in Nashville, went to college in New York City, made her first album in Glasgow and has a big following in Scotland.
All by playing music she could have stayed in Nashville to do, Cantrell said.
She became known as an Americana artist because of the BBC. Her most recent album, in 2016, was a collection of BBC sessions.
The singer-songwriter will play her country-folk at the Outpost in the Burbs on Saturday.
She’ll be “road testing” songs that could go on her new album. A response from a live audience helps her figure out what works, she said. Audience members can also expect some holiday music, and some “local special guests.”
The United Kingdom connection came about through a fellow DJ at WFMU, she said, who had had a great experience there. “Glasgow is almost like a regional indie scene, like Chicago or Minneapolis would be,” Cantrell said. “It’s a great music community, not too huge, and very supportive.”
She has toured with British groups, and has a local base in Scotland, too.
It may be an unlikely way for a country musician to make her debut, but Cantrell has always been eclectic.
Growing up, she learned from her father to love the classic American songbook, musicals like “Showboat” and “Oklahoma!” as well as Jerome Kern and Hoagy Carmichael.
Her mother, who was 10 years younger, introduced her to the sounds of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.
Along with the twin strains of music in the house, the country music scene was ever present, “without anybody really trying too hard to make it something I learned about.
“I loved all those things.”
But it wasn’t until she went to Columbia University that she realized she wanted to become deeply involved in music. She began playing guitar seriously (she’d played a little in high school, and had eight years of piano), so she could accompany herself, and learned the mechanics of performing.
“I was already pretty well defined as a music person in my own mind, through my own enthusiasm,” she said. In New York, she realized that the country music culture she had in Nashville was something rare, and that “there were things about it that were unique and cool. It connected with our folk craft of Appalachia music, and blues music, and how those strains of what would be folk music blended into something that is part of the commercial music industry.
“These are things college kids like to think about, what’s authentic, what’s artifice. It was perfect to apply to my knowledge of country music. It didn’t take too long to apply the critical eye from what I was doing as an English major to ‘What’s going on with these Hank Williams records?’”
She got involved in radio, and enjoyed having access to a great record collection of country music at the station. That segued to working at WFMU.
She also has a show today on Sirius XM, on the Beatles Channel, “Dark Horse Radio,” about George Harrison.
Cantrell likes the Beatles, but is not a George Harrison expert, something her 11-year-old daughter, a Beatles fan, reminds her every day, she said with a laugh. She forever asks me, “Mama, what album is this song on?” And Cantrell answers, “Well, to be honest…”
She works with the George Harrison estate, and an archive that has live material and rare tracks. People at the archive were familiar with her show at WFMU, she said. “I think they had in mind a female host, and wanted somebody with eclectic taste. He was known within The Beatles as having wide-ranging interests.” Harrison revered Carl Perkins, and also Indian music. “He tapped into a lot of things.”
Working on the show has been great, she said: “I don’t think you could have escaped hearing a lot of their music growing up.”
Even playing at the Outpost for the first time is a kind of melding of different strains for Cantrell: “Going back to my WFMU days, I had a lot of fans come from that part of New Jersey.
“It’s nice to go to them instead of trying to lure them into the city.”