Moving to music city thirty years ago from Boulder, Colorado, Gretchen Peters is one of Nashville’s most respected singer/songwriters and has had cuts by numerous artists including Shania Twain, Patty Loveless and Martina McBride as well as being a prolific recording and touring artist in her own right. Ever since an ex (yes, they do have their uses!) introduced me to her music many years ago I have been a massive fan. I first saw her perform live as part of her “Wine, Women and Song” tour along with Matraca Berg and Suzy Bogguss, please check out all these amazing Nashville based ladies music out if you are unfamiliar with any of them, and have seen her countless times since as she is a frequent visitor to the UK.
However, she has recently been concentrating on writing material for her next, ninth, studio album, due for release Spring 2018, and this was her only UK date this year…..what a venue too…..and her loyal fans ensured it was a sell out, hoping I’m sure to get a sneak preview of some of her new songs. I certainly was!
“I’ve missed you” she told us as she took to the stage with her acoustic guitar to a barrage of cheers, saying later on “I’d forgotten how much friggin’ fun this is!”. Indeed all four musicians seemed to be having a blast throughout the 90 minute set, she was accompanied by her long time pianist/accordian player/producer/backing vocalist/husband (that’s multi tasking!) Barry Walsh, and Belfast’s Conor McCreanor and Colm McClean on bass and lead guitar respectively ( Gretchen does love to end a song with a guitar solo and I must in particular mention Colm’s incredible playing on the outros of “Black Ribbons” and “Idlewild” ).
Nearly always writing in the first person Gretchen totally embodies the characters she sings about and transports you to their situation while performing, whether it’s the victim of incest who ends up murdering the perpetrator in “Blackbirds” (double UK Americana Association award winner last year), the ex serviceman struggling with post traumatic stress disorder in “When All You Got is a Hammer” or the single parent reflecting on her life, past and present, in the stunner “Five Minutes”
Referencing her sabbatical, Gretchen mentioned what a “helluva year” it’s been, and although she had envisioned herself sitting in the lotus position instead she found herself reaching for her phone and screaming….if you follow her on social media you’ll be aware that she’s not averse to commenting on current affairs, her writing often incorporating these issues. After the first few songs she joked that it was probably time for one that didn’t have a gun in it, Barry adding that one in a major key would also be welcome, and what followed was one of her beautiful out and out love songs “When You Love Someone” dating back twenty years or so, a co-write with Bryan Adams who also recorded his own version.
Back to the present and the first of the four new songs, performing them was like “jumping off a cliff, it’s good to have you to catch me” Gretchen said, indeed some were so new that she still needed the lyrics as a further safety net asking at one point for the stage lighting to be raised to help in this matter! “Lowlands” smacked of disillusionment and cynicism with lines such as “television just lies to keep you watching, politicians lie to get your vote” and “I’m thankful for this work that keeps me honest, my hands get dirty but my soul keeps clean” . There were also two new Ben Glover co-writes showcased, Ben co-wrote the aforementioned “Blackbirds”, and the pair seem to have cornered the market in murder/incest ballads as one was “Wichita”, another gem along similar lines. This time it has been written from the point of view of an older sibling who is convinced that no one will believe what has happened to her (“Who’d believe a kid?”) and is scared that the abuse will continue with her younger sister. She takes things into her own hand using her mother’s gun, “I hope I was the last thing you saw that night in Wichita” Gretchen sings.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who is now even more excited about the next album!
A standing ovation brought the foursome back to the stage, “Wow what a great night, we’re gonna have a little fun….well a little MORE fun” Gretchen said before a rousing cover version of Rodney Crowell’s “I Ain’t Living Long Like This” with Barry in full rock’n’roll flight on piano, the stool going flying at one point! The evening ended with Gretchen taking centre stage by herself for another new song, possibly written with one of her children in mind (family had come over from the States especially for this show apparently), it was an emotional performance for sure. After listing various types of love in the verses (“there’s love that goes to prison, love that goes to war” for example) the chorus comes in with “there’s love that makes a cup of tea, slips you twenty dollars when your rent is behind, that’s the type of love I hope you find” . As she said before playing this one, “if you haven’t seen me before you may have realised I’m not here to uplift you but I do write an uplifting song every ten years or so”!
But despite the less than uplifting subject matters of the majority of the songs, the evening itself most definitely WAS uplifting, exactly what was needed on this cold, wet November night and was another masterclass from Gretchen in how to deliver exquisitely written songs without any vocal gymnastics, but with emotion, purity and clarity that never fails to impress me.
She is back here next June, tickets to her London show at Cadogan Hall are already on sale, and of course we will bring you news of her new album as soon as we hear anything!
When All You Got Is A Hammer
Hello Cruel World
Lowlands ( NEW!)
When You Love Someone
Everything Falls Away
Wichita ( NEW!)
Truckstop Angel ( NEW!)
Woman on the Wheel
On A Bus To St Cloud
I Ain’t Living Long Like This
Love That Makes a Cup Of Tea ( NEW!)