OUR TAKE
From Wall Street to Country Roads

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By Dayana Yochim (TMF School)
May 21, 2003

How many country musicians can just as easily grace the stage of the Grand Ole Opry as the pages of The Wall Street Journal and Financial Times?

The names probably aren't jumping to mind. But then you probably haven't heard of country crooner Laura Cantrell... yet. While most musicians take the bartender-waitress career path, Cantrell heeded her schooling in law and accounting and headed to downtown New York City instead. "I said I'd take a job on Wall Street for six months, just to get the insurance," she told us in a recent interview. She ended up settling in for more than eight years.

Cantrell's working gigs at big banking firms like Fuhrman Sells (now ING) and Bank of America Securities as the business manager of an equity research department certainly give her Street cred. But it's still a little strange to hear her talk stocks with an east Tennessee lilt. Then again, her co-workers were probably a little mystified when their buttoned up office mate revealed her encyclopedia-deep familiarity of country music history.

In addition to the means to produce a few critically acclaimed records and small tours with a band, her long-standing Wall Street engagement gave her money management skills most musicians would do well to emulate. You won't find Cantrell shoving receipts into a soon-to-be-forgotten envelope buried in her guitar case. Knowing her way around a balance sheet and her ability to manipulate Excel came in handy when planning the budget for her six-week tour opening up for Elvis Costello, which ran a far-from-folksy tab of $30,000.

Fresh from a tour in the U.K., where her fans include legendary BBC DJ John Peel, Cantrell sings the kind of country and western that you suspect would make your grandpappy look up from the latest issue of Forbes and sigh. Evidently, financial journalists just can't get enough of her, either. "Sweet and steady, sneaking up on you with a light touch and a sustained passion," wrote the Wall Street Journal reporter, clearly vying for a byline in Rolling Stone.

She finally said so long to Wall Street recently, though not New York, where she lives with her producer husband. Her bosses and co-workers were very supportive, she says, telling her they appreciated watching her blossoming country career and seeing someone forgo the expected Wall Street career trajectory.

Her last album took two years to produce. (Just listen to the results!) The next, she says, will most likely take just six months. Will she write a few country-western rompers about her experiences on Wall Street? More likely her lyrics will be about the characters and "courtly melodrama in the firms," she says.

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