Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
Gretchen Peters has the enviable ability to have it both ways. As songwriter she has penned hits for artists such as Trisha Yearwood and Faith Hill while keeping more personal songs for herself. Country and western music has repetitive themes – hard livin’ men and stoic women- and Peters is not immune to this aspect of her chosen genre. But if she revisits metaphors (domesticity and circuses re-occur) Peters also confounds expectations by looking at themes from a different point of view than you might anticipate.This freshness in her material is reflected in her current tour which is far more than just a run-through of the hits..
Peters does not have a new album out but is touring to promote a DVD of her 2012 tour showcasing her ‘Hello Cruel World’ disc. The concert opens in fine style with Ben Glover; a singer-songwriter in the classic mode with an excellent rusty voice that brings weight to his tunes.
The concert draws startling variety from a basic set-up. A three-piece band seems restrictive but multi-instrumentalist Christine Bougie ensures the music has great range and depth. Keyboard player Barry Walsh continues the willingness to surprise providing a blazing Nashville honky-tonk backing for Peters’s tongue in cheek tribute to touring the UK. Bougie and Walsh get the chance to really stretch themselves in their duet – the atmospheric (and flatteringly titled) ‘Gretchen’s Theme’.
Unlike most artists, who would regard the mundanely of domestic life with contempt, Peters offers an idealised version of suburbia in ‘Sunday Morning’. But with piercing perception she strips away the romance from the hackneyed themes of circus life and matadors.
‘Independence Day’, Peters’s most popular song with its chorus of ‘Let Freedom Ring’, is easily misinterpreted and was actually co-opted as a campaign tune by populist politician Sarah Palin.In a typically challenging move Peters performs a radically different version of the song; solo at the piano stripping away any trace of jingoist pomposity and creating a stark tale of grim retribution.
There must be a contractual requirement for country and westerns artists to perform a Gram Parsons tune and Peters’s duet with Ben Glover on ‘Return of the Grievous Angel’ might be a tad obvious but it’s a great version. Besides the final encore of The Rolling Stones’ ‘ Wild Horses’ more than makes up for the initial lack of imagination.
Gretchen Peters current tour applies the imaginative approach apparent in her songwriting to her performing and gives a refreshingly different interpretation of old classics which, along with powerful new songs, ensures a great evening.