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Hello Cruel World

Gretchen Peters

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Album Review

Songwriting icon Gretchen Peters underscores the brilliance of 2007's meditation of love lost and found, Burnt Toast & Offerings, with Hello Cruel World, as if it were a companion. Here, Peters catalogs the travails, wounds, and perils of living and loving in the 21st century; she examines humanity as an extraordinary event, a spiritual opportunity via the tragedies in our personal relationships, our economic disasters, our stupid ideologies, and our brief moments of triumph and celebration with equanimity. Each song refuses escape; Peters' poetic backbone celebrates the dignity in her protagonists as they struggle and thrive. In the title track, she mirrors Bob Dylan's "It's Not Dark Yet" with the lines "I'm not dead yet, but I'm damaged goods/And it's gettin late," in one verse, then refutes his conclusions: "Me, I'm gonna stick around/In for a penny in for a pound/'Cause I hate to miss the show." With Will Kimbrough's and Doug Lancio's guitars, Barry Walsh's crystalline inventive piano, and Viktor Krauss' upright bass, Peters finally sets her fine alto free; she speaks with more authority than she ever has. "Saint Francis" offers a haunting metaphoric allegory that examines the high-wire act between our intentions and our actions, and the strange plane where we really care what the neighbors think. "Dark Angel," in duet with Rodney Crowell, is a hooky country love song that finds beauty in the brokenness of her protagonist's beloved. There is humor, irony, and sensuality on Hello Cruel World, too. In "Paradise Found," a jazzy noirish blues, Peters points to "East of Eden" as the place paradise lies, albeit in a very earthly dimension: "When your need is strong and the hour is late/Baby you got the key to my garden gate..." In "Woman on the Wheel," she uses circus metaphors in a rockist jaunt and reveals:"Sometimes I ask God, please God, just show me what's behind the door/As if God was Monty Hall and this was Let's Make a Deal...." Walsh's piano strolls it out to the ledge and Lancio's electric guitar knocks it over. "Five Minutes" is a spare, devastating portrait of a woman carrying a torch against her will for an ex. "Idlewild" is delivered from the point of view of a child in a traveling car. Her parents are lost in their own trapped reveries as they go to visit her grandmother on November 22, 1963. This child's gaze is clear; she already knows the difference between truth and perception via Walsh's jazz piano and organ wash, David Henry's cello, and Lancio's guitar. Hello Cruel World, with its many versions of Americana, is expertly and sincerely free of cliches, or false romantic notions about any subject it addresses. Its large spiritual truths are revealed in the only way they matter: small, intimate experiences. This album comes to the listener as a gift wrapped in tattered paper, making it all the more precious to receive.

Biography

Born: Westchester County, NY

Genre: Country

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Known as a writer of intelligent and introspective songs in the country/folk/pop vein, Gretchen Peters achieved renown through country stars covering her material. Among the artists to have hits with her songs were Trisha Yearwood, Pam Tillis, George Strait, Martina McBride, and Patty Loveless. Peters was born in Westchester County, New York, and lived there until her parents divorced when she was eight, at which point she moved with her mother to Boulder, Colorado, where, as a teenager, she wrote...
Full Bio
Hello Cruel World, Gretchen Peters
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