The Cantrells


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Banjoist Bela Fleck called Al and Emily Cantrell the "best vocal duet since Roy Rogers and Dale Evans." The Cantrells have made numerous appearances on Mountain Stage and were also featured in the motion picture A River Runs Through It. The heart of this duo are the sensuous vocals of Emily, and this latest collaboration features many of her compositions along with the pop music classic, "Autumn Leaves," the folksy "Take This Hammer," and Joni Mitchell's whimsical "You Turn Me On I'm A Radio." Throughout the 11 performances, "The Heart Wants What It Wants" beams with brilliance and sincerity and is assured to boost the Cantrells' ever-growing reputation. (Sombrero Records, P.O. Box 121561, Nashville, TN 37212,


Al and Emily Cantrell have some high-powered guests backing them on their new CD "The Heart Wants What It Wants", but they're not really needed. The album's cover may radiate a kind of folk sensibility, but Emily's originals modulate it with musical sophistication that suggests a devotion to craft rarely found among porch pickers or arty singer-songwriters. Al's sturdy mandolin and fiddle and Emily's flexible, dynamic vocals and solid rhythm guitar more than flesh out the record's songs, which include covers of Joni Mitchell's delicious "You Turn Me On, I'm a Radio" and Johnny Mercer's "Autumn Leaves." The result is that the hired guns - Dobro player Rob Ickes, guitarist Jim Hurst, bassist Mark Schatz and a couple of banjoists on scattered tracks - are free to emphasize and elaborate, rather than cover the fundamentals. It also means that the duo can fill a stage with good music all by themselves.
-Jon Weisberger, Nashville Scene


Many thanks for sending us a copy of your latest, a project, as usual, chock full of some sublimely crafted originals sung with power and passion as only you could sing them. Throw in some creative arrangements and just the right number of additional pickers and you've got one of your best albums to date. I especially enjoyed "Falling Forever For You", "The Road", the title track, "Snowbound" and your nice covers of "Take This Hammer" and "You Turn Me On I'm A Radio". And the sound quality was just great-Tim Carter rules!
-Dave Higgs, "Bluegrass Breakdown" (WPLN, Nashville, National Public Radio)

I love the cd. The singing and backup are wonderful, the type of sounds I like to lean forward and listen carefully to!
-Rik James, "Americana Backroads"

The Cantrells are back and better than harmonies and tingling performances..
-Ron Wynn, Nashville City Paper

An Article and Review from Nashville City Paper:

Bands and performers take breaks from touring and recording for a variety of reasons, but the duo of Emily and Al Cantrell cite a most unusual motivation behind their lengthy absence from a studio.

"We wanted to have a home," Al Cantrell said.

"We were so intent on finding a house and we kept moving from place to place," Emily Cantrell added. "It wasn't that we weren't working or playing together, but between the moving and the concerts, we would start in one city and never spend enough time there to complete it."

Tonight fans of the Cantrell's rich harmonies and tingling performances of both original and vintage folk, country and bluegrass tunes will finally have a new disc to enjoy. "The Heart Wants What It Wants" (Sombrero) is their first release since 1996, and they will be performing tunes from this in both the duo format and also working with some special guests.

"We're not exactly sure who will be coming, supposedly some of our friends," Al laughed.

Despite their tendency toward self-depreciation, the Cantrells are both well known and extremely respected by many top musicians. Bassist Mark Schatz, guitarist Jim Hurst, and master Dobro soloist Rob Ickes appear on 5 songs, while special guest Bela Fleck appears on banjo for the songs "This Quilt" and "Snowbound," and Tim Carter adds banjo support to the inventive reconfiguration of Joni Mitchell's "You Turn Me On I'm A Radio."

The Mitchell number is one of three cover pieces. There's also a fine version of Huddie Ledbetter's "Take This Hammer," with an arrangement that Emily said "we learned from the folksinger Odetta when we were playing a folk festival with her and just kind of borrowed for the session."

But the most musically unusual work is their rendition of "Autumn Leaves," done in quite different fashion from the usual vigorous, rhythmically surging treatments of jazz instrumentalists and vocalists.

"That's our lone duo piece on the disc and we really wanted to try it in another setting," Emily said.

"A couple of my family members weren't too happy when they first heard it," Al continued. "They thought we kind of made it too simple, doing what they said was a hillbilly version." Still, while Emily's interpretation does significantly differ from that of a Frank Sinatra or Miles Davis, she proves no less captivating in the presentation and delivery.

The Cantrells having been together professionally and personally since the early '80s, when Al joined the Tractors, a band that Emily had formed two years earlier. They appeared in the Robert Redford film "A River Runs Through It" and both have extremely broad musical tastes. Al, who was born in Oregon and grew up in Washington, has at various times been a rock bassist, country fiddler and bluegrass band member. Emily, born a few miles north of Memphis, has a glorious soprano voice and love for bluegrass, folk, jazz and western swing. They made their debut album in 1988, and their last release "Dancing With The Miller's Daughter" was widely praised on the folk circuit.

While they will be touring to support the new CD, the Cantrells will be primarily selling "The Heart Wants What It Wants" online through their web site and also through

"There already has been significant interest generated through the Internet before we had anything in our hand," Al said. "So I think that's going to be our major push, although we do have a distribution deal in place so people can order it at some retail stores like Tower. But the more important thing for us will be doing the live shows and getting back out there again."

-Ron Wynn, Nashville City Paper

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