On her poignant new album Blackbirds, veteran country artist Gretchen Peters creates something beautiful out of mortalities ever tightening grip
aving been inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall Of Fame last year, Gretchen Peters could be forgiven for deciding to take some time off and rest on her laurels. Instead she has recruited a host of musical friends and recorded an album which builds on 2012’s impressive *Hello Cruel World. Despite the roll call of roots luminaries such as Jerry Douglas, Jason Isbell, Jimmy LaFave, Will Kimbrough, Kim Richey and Suzy Bogguss it is the songbird Peters herself who steals the show.
*Blackbirds is a reflection on the passing of time and the darkness that stalks us as all. Two different versions of the title track open and close the record, a murder ballad from the victim’s point of view. “And I’m covered up in dirt and I stink of kerosene/ and no matter what I do I can’t get clean” Peters sings as she introduces the album’s melancholy theme.
When All You Got Is A Hammer continues this exploration of loss and uncertainty, telling the story of a military veteran struggling to return to home life who “sleeps with one eye open and he wakes up scared as hell”. Black Ribbons tackles the wider damage caused by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, with the sad realisation of the main character who “can’t stop this poison tide rolling in”.
This is an album which will appeal to fans of Neil Young’s glory run of albums from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere to Tonight’s The Night. The moments of sweet acoustic balladry are there to cloak the sadness as it creeps under your skin. On Blackbirds, Peters has faced getting older head-on and her braveness has been rewarded by the music born from it.
Verdict: Universal fear of ageing and loss delivered by a unique talent