It’s no secret that Gretchen Peters’ success since the late 1980s has come mainly in the form of songwriting credits. Martina McBride, Bryan Adams and Faith Hill have all enjoyed far more success as recording artists by her pen than she has. Not that, as she tells it, this was accidental – Peters wanted her songs to be heard and worried that she wouldn’t be accepted as a singer/songwriter, so signed a publishing deal instead. Whether or not her assumption was correct we’ll never know, but for these other artists it seems to have worked out rather well.
When she did start releasing albums back in 1996, it’s fair to say she was somewhat overshadowed. Faith Hill recorded a version of her first title track The Secret Of Life and it became a smash hit, once again confirming her seat as premier country songwriter, but foiling her attempt to equalise with a hit recording of her own.
She’s now set to release a ninth album, Hello Cruel World, and I can say without reservation that her songwriting skills are as well developed as ever. As a singer she also exudes a particular confidence, with subtle nuances picking out depth in the lyrics. Peters is by no means a knock-out vocalist, but she doesn’t need to be – as ever it’s the strength of the music and the albums lyrical content which are the drriving force. In that respect Hello Cruel World has it all. A stellar line up of musicians sympathetically in tune with Peters, from wry despair in the title track, which is instantly dark and captivating, to the contemplative moods of The Matador and Dark Angel, duetted with Nashville stalwart Rodney Crowell.
What remains striking to me, however, is the variation. It would be easy to slip into a kind of musical melancholy musing on religion, art, natural disasters and personal challenges but that never feels the case – Woman On The Wheel providing a particularly well placed lift in an album which ebbs and flows beautifully. Hello Cruel World is a testement to Gretchen Peters’ talent as both a songwriter and recording musician in her own right.