Grant Peeples’ Bad Wife is a very current, interesting, and important folk record. It’s an album of songs all written by women performed by Grant (no slouch of a songwriter himself), that is meant to call attention to the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, and recognized their “self-evident” equality.1
Grant, thankfully, refuses to change any pronouns. And yes, it’s odd to hear his (sort of) John Prine voice sing the words, “When the lights are off, I need a man to touch”. But that’s the point. You know, (to quote the great Ray Davies) in “a mixed-up, muddled-up shook up world” this album makes perfect, respectful, necessary, and poignant sense. And, as my friend, Kilda Defnut, often says, “We’re all the same because we’re all different”. That’s the gist of Bad Wife.
The songs are filled with psychological pathos. ‘Crying Out’, with the before- mentioned line about “needing a man to touch”, pleads with an honesty that should become a contagious outbreak that could, perhaps, same our humanity. ‘3:52 a.m.’ drills deeper into the feminine soul as “She knew this one was gonna hurt bad”. A tough guitar and Grant’s rough voice frame the emotions of the sadly confessional song.
To break the tension, ‘Unsustainable’ is a melodic soft-shoe of a tune that belies its nice breath to suggest “Let’s tear it down and start all over again”, words that could grace any very modern stitched sampler.
‘Slow Dancer’ is a song that grips love, from a woman’s point of view.
‘Venezuala’, too, sings and speculates on possible, and then impossible, passion.
‘Iris’ is a faded glance at a photograph memory of a “granny who never hugged me” and “kept a pistol right by her front door”. But, despite this, that memory still recalls, “somehow I know she loved me’. And then the proper confessional words whisper “Her husband was drunk and mean…but I’m not sure what Iris ever dreamed”. It’s a weathered leather tune.
The album is filled with (a sadly) necessary and tragic “duality”. ‘Bad Wife’ confesses, with a bluesy vibe, for freedom from stereotypes and guilt. ‘Keep Trying’ sings of “imitations of the life she is told to live” and hopes to find “a fiddle I’ve never learned to play”. That’s a nice metaphor. ‘Rich Man’ is a Willie Nelson voiced ironic ode to the Beatles’ thought that “Money can’t buy me love”. Then, ‘Good Actress’ is a brilliant solo-voiced song that portrays the plight of a woman, but manages to touch the reality of anyone who ventures into the commercial market. Sure, “All the world’s a stage”.
By the way, it’s important to note that the first published poet in America was Anne Bradstreet, with her The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up In America in 1650. And Phillis Wheatly, a Boston slave, who despite all the odds, learned English, Greek, and Latin, and was the very first African-American to publish a book of verse, Poems On Various Subjects, Religious And Moral, in 1773.
Odd: the spirit of both brilliant women would have to wait patiently until 1920 for the right to exercise the Constitutionally implied right to vote.
Bad Wife conjures the greatness of Anne, Phillis, and countless others who walked in their tough and talented steps.
A personal note: Bad Wife reminds me of the weird reality of my Midwest American introduction into the blues. In the early 70’s, department stores were the source of record albums. They stocked albums by Ten Years After, Cream, John Mayall, Fleetwood Mac, and Savoy Brown. Quite frankly, I had never heard of Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Blind Willie Johnson, or Willie Dixon. But I loved Savoy Brown’s Street Corner Talking’s version of ‘Wang Dang Doodle’. So, doors opened because these British guys loved this stuff, and to quote the great Aretha Franklin, they voiced a very foreign perception with “respect”. And I learned to love Howlin’ Wolf, Fats Domino, Muddy Waters, and Bo Diddley. So, thank you, Kim Simmons, Eric Clapton, Alvin Lee, Peter Green, and the already-mentioned John Mayall.
Grant Peeples does the very same thing. He shows respect by attempting to understand a different point of view.
Odd (again!): the final song, ‘Market Town’, is listed as a ‘bonus track’. Well, sure, ‘Good Actress’ is a fine and dramatic finish. But ‘Market Town’ is an absolutely killer tune that paints a sepia portrait of a tranquil rural America, but then the song drops a pitchfork into the Norman Rockwell serenity with the cruel cry of a slave auction. It hits history like a Mohamad Ali punch (with perfectly good reason) at the local draft board. It’s a stunning song.
Well, this is a strange record, and it’s like an aged quilt home spun by some unknown American woman that suddenly appears on an Antiques Roadshow episode and is valued, by a local expert, with the worth a thousand dollars. This is an important record that understands the quilted stitches of great American woman artists, and then, thankfully, takes the time (with pronouns intact!) to sing all their eternal praises.
1The writers are Carrie Elkin, Telisha Williams, Eliza Gilkyson, Caroline Spence, Dayna Kurtz, Phoebe Bloom, Alicia McGovern, Sarah Mac, Rebekah Pulley, Myshkin, and Ali Holder.
Artist’s website: https://www.grantpeeples.com/
‘Iris’ – live: