GRACE PETRIE – Build Something Better (The Robot Needs Home Collective TRNHC013)

Build Something BetterI do like Grace Petrie best when she’s sticking it to the man. Or, to put it rather more delicately, pointing up the inequalities and iniquities of our contemporary society. Build Something Better does just that. Produced by Frank Turner, it defines the punk-folk genre while allowing Grace’s guitar and voice to do its acoustic best. Before I forget I must mention Ben Moss’ fiddle playing which introduces and lifts so many tracks and, while I’m at it, I’ll name-check drummer Stuart Proven who is excellent and point out that Frank contributes so much to the album.

The opening track, ‘The Best Country In The World’, begins with Grace’s school days – a device she has used before. Of course, she doesn’t stay there and the song echoes the alienation that so many of us feel these days, a theme that returns again and again throughout the album. She begins with acoustic guitar for a verse until the drums and fiddle join in. The recent single, ‘The House Always Wins’, employs a similar musical pattern with the fiddle leading the way and getting harder and harder as it progresses. The lyrics could be a position statement from which the whole album stems – we all know who the winners are.

‘King And Country’ is a gentle song based on a beautifully rich guitar part. The song ranges across a number of topics as Grace rejects the king and the country and the media that feed us lies. Nice harmonica coda, too. ‘Meanwhile In Texas’ transports that point across the Atlantic to where the post-truth movement began while concentrating on the hard right pro-life philosophy. I guess that ‘Next Episode Starts’ is about our inability to communicate in the information age but it’s probably about much more than that: the pain of existence, perhaps? A similar lyrical thread spreads into ‘Start Again’ – “I saw another Albion”, she sings with an exhortation not to give up.

‘Earthwire’ is Grace’s ode to touring which is her preferred mode of communication but once again there is more to it than that. It’s about a very personal relationship as is ‘Cynicism Free’ which is expressed in a different form in the lovely ‘If I Were To Outlive You’. ‘Fixer Upper’ leads us to the album title and the existential threat of the global crisis and the hope that “we will build something better from the parts”. Finally, ‘English Culture’ brings the record back to where it started. You know the title is ironic, right?

Build Something Better is a terrific album, musically rich and overflowing with ideas that tumble over each other. Grace is at the top of her form both as a singer and a writer although for some of us she may be singing in an echo chamber. I really don’t mind that at all.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘The House Always Wins’ – official video: