Laura Cantrell knows how to stay out of a song's way, and that willingness to let her pure twang serve the lyric at hand is in full, lustrous effect on Trains and Boats and Planes. As the title suggests, this amounts to a concept EP about, well, travel and transportation, recorded in sessions with a tossed-off, semi-impromptu feel, heavy on fiddle and accordion. Cantrell's way with country standards is no news, and here wrings stoic pathos from Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings," unlocks a swell yodel on Roger Miller's "Train of Life" and deadpans John Hartford's comic shuffle "Howard Hughes Blues," adding a new line about how Scorsese's The Aviator was too long.
But even better are her three major re-workings of familiar, non-country oldies. In her hands, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" sounds like the genuine lost folk traditional Gordon Lightfoot probably always wanted it to be, and New Order's "Love Vigilantes" (you know, the one that goes "I want to see/ My family/ My wife and child/ Waiting for me") is a war ballad with a happy ending. And as for the Bacharach-penned title track, it's been crying out for a country cover for years and we never even realized it.