Twenty years on from Gretchen Peters’ debut solo album, The Secret Of Life, comes a career retrospective double CD set – half greatest hits, half demos and rarities. Gretchen is almost as well known as writer of songs for other singers and a collaborator as for her solo work so her guests on these tracks include some major names: Tom Russell, Bryan Adams, Ben Glover, Matraca Berg and Suzy Boggus.
The set opens with the crunching guitar of ‘Blackbirds’ from her most recent solo album but with her wide-ranging experience there isn’t a single Gretchen Peters sound. Most of her songs are built on her acoustic guitar, of course, but the wistfulness of ‘The Aviator’s Song’ and ‘On A Bus To St. Cloud’ are in complete contrast to the anger of ‘When All You Got Is A Hammer’. I think I prefer her angry.
There are musical touches that don’t let your attention wander. ‘The Matador’, a song reminiscent of both Leonard Cohen and Suzanne Vega, features accordion and percussion that sounds like distant fireworks and ‘Sunday Morning (Up And Down My Street)’ has organ and bells – not “churchy”; the organ is electric and the bells are a glockenspiel, I think, but the feeling of Sunday morning in suburbia is perfectly captured.
The second disc includes a radio edit of ‘Pretty Things’, a live ‘Woman On The Wheel’, a piano-based interpretation of the traditional ‘The Cruel Mother’ and several demos and work tapes. Notably among the latter is ‘Five Minutes’, which appears in full on the hits disc. And don’t forget the cover of ‘Wild Horses’ with Berg and Boggus.
There is a huge variety of styles and moods here and, moreover, some superb songs. If you don’t know Gretchen’s music this is the perfect way to get acquainted
The Essential Gretchen Peters (Proper PRPCD134)
Artist’s website: http://www.gretchenpeters.com/
‘Five Minutes’ – live in the studio:
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