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Gretchen Peters - Blackbirds (Scarlet Letter/Proper)

Star rating: 

The new album release by Nashville-based singer/songwriter Gretchen Peters, co-produced by Peters, Doug Lancio and Barry Walsh, is bookended by two versions of the title song Blackbirds, co-written by Peters and Ben Glover, the first of three collaborations with the Glenarm, Northern Ireland-born singer/songwriter. In between, the standard of song writing remains top shelf, with a handful of Peters originals together with a gorgeous David Mead song Nashville and a further collaboration with Matraca Berg and Suzy Bogguss Black Ribbons. Fine company indeed.

Gretchen Peters is expert at keeping good company though and in October last year the song writer joined a long line of 'good company' when she was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, joining everybody from the predictable Hank Williams and Tammy Wynette to the not so predictable but equally important Woody Guthrie and WC Handy. Although this was very good news indeed, one does wonder why it took so long to happen; it could perhaps have taken place almost twenty years ago to coincide with all the Grammy nominations coming in.

By her own admission, the songs on this new record are from the pen of an artist aware of her own aging and mortality with no pretentions to Nashville’s obsession with youth and sexuality. The songs here are real, about real issues and from the stance of wisdom. Her song writing is unmatched when addressing home thoughts and the simplistic memories of youth, but with darker and sometimes sinister undertones. The House on Auburn Street for instance, evokes real enough childhood memories, but with the additional poetic licence of personal fantasy. When You Comin' Home, another co-write with Ben Glover, once again approaches a bygone era, this time the winter streets of her childhood New York, which also features a well-balanced duet with Jimmy LaFave.

Jason Isbell contributes the harmony on When All You Got Is a Hammer, a dramatic song that pretty much addresses the empty feeling that serving men and women often suffer when returning from a tour of duty in the Gulf, only to be expected to fit in and act as if nothing happened. Jerry Douglas' inimitable Dobro further adds to the drama of the performance. 

Towards the end of the album, before the bookended title song, this time performed in a pretty much stripped down manner, Gretchen Peters leaves us with one of the album's most moving and honest songs, The Cure for the Pain, delivered with an almost choked and emotional vocal, guaranteeing from this reviewer at the very least, the first five-star album of the year.

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky

Airplay: Everything Falls Away (Show 356/28.12.14)
Airplay: The Cure for the Pain (Show 358/11.01.15)
Release Date: 09.02.15
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