As if the brilliant album Blackbirds was not enough, Gretchen Peters has outdone herself with an even more brilliant collection of songwriting in this year’s Dancing With The Beast.
Peters is the storytelling songwriter in paradigm who delivers in a voice that holds your attention without ever having to over do the drama already present in the songs. It is an album that deals with disorientation, isolation, insecurity, vocational weariness, political lies, between the lines of carefully crafted and beautifully delivered stories of a 12 year old killer, a truck stop prostitute, a female adolescent in love, a nation in turmoil, a dead mother returning in a dream with a cup of tea and the singer herself as she deals with being on the road and needing sabbatical sorbet time when she comes off the road.
Gretchen Peters has made a name in songwriting noir but Dancing With The Beast is not without hope and grace and love. Lowlands, that tackles the doom and gloom so many American feel at the election of President Donald Trump, is dark but there are chinks:
“So I spend a lot of time here in the lowlands
Me and all my friends we're makin' do
We get a lot of clouds here in the lowlands
But now and then a little light gets through”
When she played a gig in Fitzroy in 2015 Peters seemed to wonder whether some of her songs fitted in Church. Every human story and all human feelings have a place in Church whether to be redeemed or to be given more prayer to fly. On Dancing With The Beast I love the way she takes these stories home.
Say Grace is a song of self forgiveness:
“Say grace - say grace
Forgive yourself for all of your mistakes
You can start all over if that's what it takes
Come inside and set yourself a place
And say grace”
The closing Love That Makes A Cup Of Tea was apparently inspired by a dream when Gretchen’s mother, who passed away in 2016, came back to make her a cup of tea. It is a song in which Peters exposes love that isn’t really love before picking out one of the apostle Paul’s spiritual gifts in Romans 12, hospitality, and then conjures a perfect image of the real love that all of us could do with and give out:
“But there is love that makes a cup of tea
Love that loves both who you are and who you want to be
Love that waits for you when you fall behind
That's the kind of love I hope you find”
I love a good song and Dancing With The Beast is full of good songs. Some are even co-written by Glenarm bard Ben Glover. Can we claim this is an Irish record!