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Gretchen Peters - Dancing with the Beast

  by Nicky Crewe

published: 17 / 7 / 2018



Gretchen Peters - Dancing with the Beast
Label: Proper Records
Format: CD

intro

Impressive latest album from American singer-songwriter Gretchen Peters, whose combination of sweet vocals and sad lyrics tells the stories of those who need a voice, and which features songs that will become classics in her repertoire


I found this new album a difficult listen. In fact I found the songs too disturbing to enjoy. I was uncertain about reviewing it because it was just too dark. Two things happened that helped me to come to terms with this new material. I overheard an interview with Gretchen Peters on Radio 2, and on the same day I went to see her in concert at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. This gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation of the stories she is telling through her songwriting. Listening to the album was too uncomfortable, I didn’t want to break through my resistance to the sadness. These seemed to be songs of despair not hope. Listening to her talk about the lyrics and perform the songs gave me the courage to enter into the world she’s sharing. Thank you, Gretchen. Each of the eleven songs represents the voice of a different woman, with different life experiences, and at different ages. There is the lonely widow on ‘Arguing with Ghosts’, there’s the abused young girl in ‘Wichita’, the woman who lives as a ‘Truckstop Angel’. There is murder and revenge, loss, grief and heartache. In the overheard interview, Gretchen Peters said that this wasn’t her original concept for the album. The death of her mother last year and the American election result in 2016, however, put these characters and their voices in her head. They are women’s voices, but they are songs that speak to humanity. She makes it clear that she isn’t a protest singer, but, while not being overtly political, the environment that surrounds the songs is political with both Trump’s presidency and all it represents and the #metoo campaign in the news. She described the political situation as an “empathy crisis” and these songs are about opening the “empathy channels”, giving people who don’t normally get heard a voice. I was very struck with how her voice and performance changed with each character when I saw her perform these songs in concert. ‘Dancing with the Beast’, the title track, can be heard as the experience of living in a controlling and emotionally abusive relationship. In the interview she revealed that it is also about living with depression or addiction. Everyone has their own “beast”. One of the most powerful songs for me is ‘Disappearing Act’, about a mother who has lost a husband, and her children, including a grown up son in Iraq. “If it lifts you up it will lay you low/People leave and they don’t come back/Life is a disappearing act.” ‘The Boy From Rye’ is a different take on summer love and teenage holiday romance, exploring the devastating effect a good looking and arrogant boy can have on girls’ friendships, not just breaking hearts but breaking bonds. ‘Say Grace’ is a song of hope, connecting strangers in shared humanity. The final song of the album, ‘Love That Makes a Cup of Tea', is inspired by her mother. It’s the song she sang at the end of the concert, off the stage, standing at the front of the theatre, unplugged. We have all been there. Her storytelling songwriting style emphasises her belief that it is the role of the artist to feel what is bubbling under and express it. She has a strong following here in the UK and she talked about the times audiences here have kept her going. She now has the recognition she deserves in the States too and this album can only add to her reputation and acclaim. And she has done what she hoped to do, given a voice to those who are overlooked. There’s a line in ‘Lowlands’, a song about lying low in the aftermath of the 2016 election result, a result that made life so difficult for so many, “get a lot of clouds here in the lowlands – now and then a little light gets through.” Gretchen Peters is that light.



Track Listing:-
1 Arguing with Ghosts
2 Wichita
3 The Boy from Rye
4 Disappearing Act
5 Lowlands
6 The Show
7 Dancing with the Beast
8 Truckstop Angel
9 Say Grace
10 Lay Low
11 Lay Low


Band Links:-
https://www.facebook.com/gretchenpetersmusic
http://www.gretchenpeters.com/
https://twitter.com/gretchenpeters


Label Links:-
http://www.proper-records.co.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/ProperRecords
https://twitter.com/ProperRecords
https://www.youtube.com/user/propertv
http://www.properdistribution.com/
http://instagram.com/properblog



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interviews


Interview (2016)
Gretchen Peters - Interview
Owen Peters talks to the critically acclaimed Gretchen Peters about her lengthy musical career and her new double CD compilation album, 'The Essential Gretchen Peters'


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Blackbirds (2015)
Atmospheric and career-defining eighth album from the much acclaimed Nashville-based singer-songwriter Gretchen Peters, which finds her reflecting upon mortality
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