Album Review: Gretchen Peters, ‘Blackbirds’

Gretchen Peters Blackbirds cover.jpg

Gretchen Peters – ‘Blackbirds’ (Scarlet Letter Records)

In 1914, Robert Frost wrote in his “A Servant to Servants” that “The best way out is always through.” A hundred years later, Gretchen Peters sees his bet and ups the ante just a little bit more by adding that not one of us gets out of here alive. Still, we all must pass through this thing called life, even though the only “out” is, well… not alive.

And that is the tale Peters tells on ‘Blackbirds’ as she explores both the death of life and the death of life as we know it. Here, the victimized murderer of the title track is handled with just as much compassion and care as is the returning soldier of “When All You Got Is a Hammer.”

Sonically and thematically, the album employs a fragile friction between the elements in order to mirror the delicate dance that is life and, indeed, death. From the oil-stained banks of Louisiana in “Black Ribbons” to the “cliffs at Echo Bay” in “Everything Falls Away,” the songs are melancholic and mournful, somber and sober — a glorious collocation of noir themes tempered by gorgeous melodies. The roughly hewn guitars cut in just the right ways and the sweeping strings tug at all the right places, making the whole work feel effortless, timeless. On top of it all, Peters’ voice is like a tender kiss that seems to make a wound hurt just a little bit less, even though it doesn’t really.

In both style and substance, Peters has more in common with Shawn Colvin and Kim Richey, despite having hits by Martina McBride and Faith Hill. (Richey even makes a guest appearance on the set.) And, despite being infamous as a solo writer, Peters paired up with Irish singer/songwriter Ben Glover for three cuts, as well as Matraca Berg and Suzy Bogguss for one.

Yes, there’s a lot of darkness on ‘Blackbirds,’ but the light is never shut out completely. It’s still there, at the end of the tunnel, showing us the the way. Because, even though not one of us gets out of here alive, who would really want to?

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