Album Reviews

Gretchen Peters

The Essential

Artist:     Gretchen Peters

Album:     The Essential

Label:     Scarlet Letter

Release Date:     01/29/2016


The success of her last two records, 2015’s Blackbirds and 2013’s Hello Cruel World, have greatly elevated awareness of Gretchen Peters, who stands at the pinnacle of  highly literate and emotionally honest singer-songwriters. In the early part of her 20 year career, she was primarily recognized as a great writer of hits for other singers. She had plenty of them– enough to rest on those laurels. Instead, she pursued her calling as a singer-songwriter, with a determined will to win. Now, she is taking the stage to sold-out tours in Europe and well informed venues here in the U.S. Having interviewed her upon the release of Blackbirds, I can certainly attest to her enthusiasm for this momentum she has been building. Hence, she has a platform for a double disc that highlights her best songs.  Her classic “Bus to St. Cloud” is totally reworked. Others appear for the first time, and recent ones like “Blackbirds” and “Five Minutes” have both the completed and demo version.

Disc 1 features mostly finished tunes culled from her albums. Undiscovered treasures in Disc 2 range from demos, alternate versions and live versions (“Woman on the Wheel”) to unreleased material and covers. Her stunning vocal delivery on “When You Wish Upon a Star” will quickly dispel any notion that she’s only a writer. She can sing with the best of them, solo or in tandem. She pairs with Tom Russell on his “Guadalupe,” which he claims is the best song he’s ever written. She partners with Bryan Adams, her co-writer on “When You Love Someone.” Friends Matraca Berg and Suzy Bogguss join her for a stripped-down take on the Stones’ “Wild Horses.”  Husband, pianist and co-producer Barry Walsh helps on Ben Bullington’s “Ring Around the Moon.” Finally, co-writer Ben Glover joins on the work tape version of “Blackbirds.”

In previous reviews of Peters’ albums, I’ve mentioned just getting lost in her lyrical imagery and her remarkable ability to succinctly capture emotional experiences. Acclaimed music writer Dave Marsh begins his liner notes this way, “Like any Gretchen Peters album, Essential threatens to swallow you up.” Whether you’re familiar with Peters’ work or not, my guess is that you’ll share similar sentiments.

– Jim Hynes

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