But what's most striking about the Cantrells is how un-old-timey they can be: Emily sings with barely a hint of her Nankipoo, Tennessee, birthplace: Her big, voluptuous voice reminds some of Joni Mitchell or Matraca Berg, but she's perhaps closest to contemporary-country goddess Patty Loveless or maybe a jazz-pop singer like Lena Horne (minus the vibrato and evening gowns). As a songwriter she's not much interested in archetypes like death and farming but rather in the terse craft of the pop love ballad. And then there's Al's jazzy, idiosyncratic mandolin and fiddle work; it's no wonder Béla Fleck's banjo sounds right at home on the Cantrells' first album, Under a Southern Moon. The Cantrells may not be as well known as contemporary folk duos such as Robin and Linda Williams or Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, but fans of either group should make haste to the acoustically ideal Focal Point to find out what they've been missing.
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