As the proprietress of Radio Thrift Shop
on WFMU on the East Coast and an accomplished singer in her own right, Laura Cantrell is a champion of old-time country music -- and she makes it sound lovelier than ever on her Matador debut, Humming by the Flowered Vine
. Cantrell's precise, crystal-clear vocals are perfectly suited to these gorgeous melodies and honky-tonk rhythms. Only the Lucinda Williams cover "Letters" feels like a reach -- Cantrell doesn't have that much gravel in her soul. But she's achingly sad on the ballad "Bees," as the band ebbs and flows behind her. And on the record's clear winner, the infectious AM-radio pop gem "14th Street," Cantrell's measured, shy delivery matches the song's lovestruck protagonist, who can't decide whether to say hi or just hide. Timidity rarely sounds this pretty.