Label: Proper Records
Release Date: 29th January 2016
Gretchen Peters’ star continues to rise. The songwriter’s songwriter, with a pedigree fan base, feted by the likes of Ralph McLean, Bob Harris, the late, great Gerry Anderson and Terry Wogan, it seems she has cultivated a close connection with Ireland North and South over the years.
She has forged bonds with the place and the people, recognising home grown talent yet casting her net wide to collaborate with the big names and the less easily recognised. The woman with seven studio albums to her name, has just launched what is effectively a “best of” – ‘The Essential Gretchen Peters’.
It combines her career-defining creations with the lesser spotted, rare outtakes, demos and B-sides that only an artist both confident and comfortable, yet courageous and acute could do.
She oozes accolades galore. With grammy nominations to her credit, she was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2014, and most recently won Best International Album and Best International Song at the UK Americana Awards with ‘Blackbirds’ – both the album and the song.
The song, it must be said, is outstanding. Written with and featuring Northern Ireland raised but Nashville based Ben Glover, ‘Blackbirds’ is boldly brooding, sinister and spine-tingling, with a shadow of the jackdaws at Tallahatchie Bridge. There’s even a hint of Heaney in that earthy mood and tone.
Her lyrics are often intensely poetic, ferociously potent and unmasking both her power and her glory. Ranging from Shakespearian high drama, driven by dark forces of nature and beyond, to Blake-like innocence and simplicity, to retrospective whimsy, nostalgia and even errant sentimentality – but what would country be without those overarching, aching emotional manacles and ties?
Yet there are a few songs on this collection that don’t quite fit. It’s a matter of taste but ‘The Secret Of Life’ and ‘If Heaven’ just don’t quite sit with the quality of the weightier offerings – as if included to provide some light relief for the collection can essentially meander into some dark corners – I’m thinking here of ‘When All You Got Is A Hammer’ and its contrast and shift from the blissful home life in the previous songs to the fear and loathing of post-war domestic violence. I can only think that wrench is intended to make us think and to recognise her insight and intelligence.
Essentially a ‘pic-n-mix’ collection from Gretchen’s repertoire, the stand out tracks would have to be ‘Blackbirds’ first and foremost, ‘On A Bus To St Cloud’, ‘The Matator’, ‘Guadaloupe’ (with Tom Russell) and with perhaps a nod and a wink to Mr WB Yeats, the entirely beautiful ‘When You Are Old’.
She may be reaching her 59th year, but there’s a sense in this collection that Gretchen Peters is not only in her prime, but is set to manifest her full potential into her sixties and beyond. Her fans will still love her, when she is old, in fact, they’ll love her all the more. Not many things in life are certain, but Gretchen Peters’ vocals could never disappoint.