Laura Cantrell has impeccable credentials for a successful career in country music, but has always taken her own path. Just over 20 years since her John Peel-championed breakthrough, and nine years after her last recording, she is back with a new crowdfunded record, Just Like a Rose: The Anniversary Sessions. On that album, she revisits “When the Roses Bloom Again,” which she has performed for almost all of her recording career. This time she has the legendary Steve Earle as a partner. A standard from early 20th Century American folk canon, the song’s tale of love and loss speaks to the human cost of war.
There are few versions in which both of the song’s characters are personified, in the form of a duet. Earle cannot be anything other than an “old soldier.” Cantrell’s “sweetheart” is also not in the first flush of youth; in a movie, he would be heading off for one last battle before retiring. Buddy Miller adds guitar to the sound before a martial break foreshadows what is to come. As the old soldier expires, we know that he has been faithful and so has earned the right to be reunited with his sweetheart, but not until they are both in a rose-filled heaven. The song is always beautiful and poignant but Cantrell and Earle afford it a dignity that the protagonists deserve.