What does it sound like?:
This new album from Gretchen Peters is her first since 2015’s Blackbirds. Right off the bat I have to declare an interest here. I adore her. Some of her songs are amongst my favourite songs of all time and she has a special place in my heart because it was my late Mum who introduced me to her music.
I am very lucky to have had the review download for four weeks, so plenty of time to soak in these 11 new songs and to absorb myself in the worlds that Gretchen revels in. If I tell you that, in that time, I have hardly played anything else, it will give you an idea of how good this album is.
This is an album full of women. Some are feisty, some tender, some world-weary, some lost and some are in the most perfect place they want to be. Gretchen is a master songwriter, a consummate storyteller, who has a brilliant ear for a melody and a voice that is perfect for inhabiting the worlds she creates.
The opener is Arguing With Ghosts and the first few seconds take your breath away.
“I get lost in my hometown, since they tore the drive-in down.”
Immediately, you are there, in that worn down Southern town, listening to this worn down woman looking back on her life and all that she has lost. It would be gut-wrenching if it wasn’t so beautiful.
Songs like Disappearing Act tell an entire life story in the first two verses, so accurately that you feel like you have met this woman yourself. Lowlands tells of a feisty, independent woman living in Trump’s America and is a vicious condemnation of life in the modern age. The title track is a wonderfully hypnotic piece of music that has a lyric that stops you in your tracks. It hints at a dark, abusive relationship but it never turns the light on, leaving you to try and make out the shapes in the shadows, the devil in the darkness. The last 2 minutes or so are mesmerising as some of the best musicians on the planet weave their musical tapestry. Majestic.
The two most striking women are the mentally handicapped girl (‘simple’ would be a better description, if it weren’t so disparaging) in Wichita and the hooker in Truckstop Angel. Gretchen describes their lives with a passion, a storyteller’s empathy that has you rooting for them both and praying for them at the same time.
Love That Makes A Cup of Tea is one of those little songs that, in 3 simple minutes, captures it’s subject perfectly. I guarantee that, when she plays it live, it’ll be the one where couples reach for each other hands or rest a head on their partner’s shoulder. If you can have such a thing, it is a contented sigh of a song.
I have left my two favourite songs to last. The Boy From Rye is one of Gretchen’s songs that has you gazing out of the open window, sun streaming in, lost in her world, suspended in the moment. It doesn’t begin or end, it just ‘is’. It floats in through that open window; Barry Walsh’s piano sending shivers up your spine, and wraps you in that warm summer sun that the song describes. It is both beautiful and haunting at the same time. It has brought me to tears more than once.
The Show is so beautiful. It describes the world of the travelling troubadour and, in my head, it is Gretchen and husband Barry. It has one of those recurring guitar figures that Gretchen has used so cleverly in the past on songs like Sunday Morning (Up And Down My Street). It sets the tone, tells the time like a ticking clock, and wraps you up in a blanket of a world of happy contentment.
“Nineteen songs and one more night to go, time to get it up for the show.”
As you would expect, the songs are played by some of Nashville’s finest, with the immaculate Jerry Douglas to the fore on several of them, his slide ringing out of the speakers like your favourite train whistle from some distant time, some distant life.
What does it all *mean*?
This is a wonderful album. If you are a fan, you will love it. If you are new to one of America’s best songsmiths, then it is a great introduction. I declared the new Bennett Wilson Poole album to be British Americana Album of the Year. This will be my American Americana Album of the Year, I know that for sure.
Goes well with…
A warm summer evening, a gentle breeze and a favourite bottle of wine.
Might suit people who like…
Great songwriting. Simple as that.