Initially conceived as a 20th-anniversary nod to 2000 debut Not The Tremblin’ Kind, this first-rate studio return was derailed by the pandemic. Just Like A Rose is well worth the wait, though. Cantrell sees it as “more of a celebration than a traditional album”, the sum of myriad influences and styles that have defined her career thus far, from Peel favourite to Grand Ole Opry performer to successful radio host on Gimme Country.
The protracted gestation of Just Like A Rose… also allowed her to bring in a wealth of guests, among them Steve Earle, Buddy Miller and rockabilly veteran Rosie Flores. The latter directly inspired the title track, a country-rock tribute to female singer-guitarists who continue to roar: “Her colours are wild/Her ways are free”. Producer Flores and fellow guitarist Kenny Vaughan lock into a stinging rhythm, overlaid with Cantrell’s clear, assured voice. A similar sentiment guides the airy “Unaccompanied”, which revisits her formative days in New York City, riding the subway, catching gigs, immersing herself in music – “On my own/ Free to roam/All alone” – its wistful sense of autonomy accentuated by pedal steel from David Mansfield, previously a mainstay of Bob Dylan’s ’70s ensemble.
Earle appears on “When The Roses Bloom Again”, a majestic duet treatment of a vintage tune that Cantrell first cut for her second album, back in 2002, and which owes its arrangement to Jeff Tweedy (the Wilco leader had recorded it with Billy Bragg during the Mermaid Avenue sessions). It’s brightened further by Buddy Miller’s extended guitar break. “Bide My Time” is imbued with a satisfying twang, a gentle-ish paean to ramblin’ country tropes, though the antique vibe is most apparent on “Good Morning Mr Afternoon”. Written by Joe Flood and featuring Paul Burch and his WPA Ballclub, it’s a leisurely exercise in old-school honky-tonk. It finds its greatest contrast in “AWM – Bless”, a biting takedown of entitled, angry white maledom that couldn’t feel more 2023.