Laura Cantrell's fourth full-length, Kitty Wells Dresses: Songs of the Queen of Country Music, reflects exactly what it is, a collection of covers associated with Wells. It may seem unusual that, given the six years that have lapsed between brilliant Humming by the Flowered Vine, that a canny songwriter like Cantrell would issue an album (almost) exclusively of covers, until you hear it. Produced by Mark Nevers, Cantrell's top-flight cast of players includes Chris Scruggs (BR5-49, M. Ward), multi-instrumentalist Fats Kaplin (Tom Russell, Andrew Hardin, Kane Welch Kaplin, Paul Burch), Paul Niehaus (Calexico), and BR5-49 frontman Chuck Mead. Cantrell wrote the title track, a beautiful, lilting, midtempo country song driven by acoustic guitar, bass, and fiddle; the protagonist is looking back on her youth after seeing a photograph of Wells in a magazine in a black gabardine dress (which went against the dress code for female country performer sin the early '50s). She explains with requisite poetry and sparse elegance exactly why Wells is such a sacred figure in the history of country. Wells scored with "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" in 1951, paving the way for Patsy Cline, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, and virtually every female artist who followed. Cantrell follows this lovely song with nine covers of songs associated with Wells, with a simple presentation that manages to convey Wells' own plain-sung but emotionally smoldering delivery on topics that depicted love, sex, and heartbreak in a shockingly frank manner for the era. These include the better-known material like "....Honky Tonk Angels," readings of Jimmy Work's "Making Believe," Zeke Clements' "Poison in Your Heart," Fred Rose's and Hy Heath's "I Gave My Wedding Dress Away," Wells' and J.D. Loudermilk's "Amigo's Guitar," the Anglin Brothers' and Johnny Wright's "One by One" (sung as a fine duet with Mead), and the wrenching closer, "Searching for a Soldier's Grave," written by Roy Acuff. A hit in 1956 for Wells, it addressed the loss of American soldiers in WWII, but resonates in this version as a poignant reminder of the cost of war. Cantrell's all-too-brief Kitty Wells Dresses contains its object's sense of sophisticated vocal economy that still conveys the power of truth in the human heart with elegance and grace, making it a fitting tribute for all the right reasons.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek