Sunday, 29 January 2012

Gretchen Peters - Hello Cruel World

The world of folk has taken a steady step down since the legendary period in the 60's and 70's. Just recently, a new wave of singer-songwriters have taken mainstream success with artists like Cat Power and Aimee Mann reaching to wider audiences with their strong saddening lyrical themes and easy listening style of music. Gretchen Peters follows in those same footsteps with this record. Aimee Man has been compared to Gretchen tirelessly in the past and it's easy to see why when you listen to the opening track 'Hello cruel World'. Where Aimee Man brought her music to a wider audience with the enduring Magnolia soundtrack, Gretchen is yet to be recognised worldwide for her musical output. That's not to say she's unheard of, she will be participating in a tour of UK in March this year in support for this album.

'Saint Francis' has some lovely finger-picking and layered vocal harmonies to give the song a melancholy feel. The light percussion is common for this kind of recording and the drumming only adds to the light flavor and sweet lyrical metaphors. it's a lovely track full of exciting vocal melodies, something to look out for on this album.  Further finger-picking is performed on 'The Matador'. it has some brilliant electric guitar segments and an orchestral instrumental piece. Where others in the genre fail to grab my attention, Gretchen manages to hold my thoughts aimed directly at her beautiful Tennessee vocal.

We're introduced to the alternative country legend Rodney Crowell. he was a member of Emmylou Harris's band for three years. Gretchen sings sweetly as the duet kicks in with an aged country guitar riff and slow bass work. The whole track is raises during the chorus with electric guitar. Sparse moments of adult contemporary shine through here. The duo have a combined age of 117, so they have many topics to sing about. Both are credited songwriters and have both been awarded with awards in both songwriting and country music, Gretchen even being awarded a Grammy. We all know awards are meaningless unless it's something worthy of artistic reasoning, but winning a Grammy award for songwriting is a huge achievement for anybody. I'm a huge fan of songwriters ranging from the delicate sweetness of Jimmy Webb to the experiences of Leonard Cohen, writing a song is one of many ways people can give back to society.

The same country styles are heard on the following track 'Paradise Found'. With it's mellow drum beat and wah wah left sided guitar, the track makes for a brilliant, laid back track. Imagine laying on a beach during sunset, that's this track. That same vibe is heard on 'Woman On The Wheel'. It has a simplistic guitar progression with all the characteristics of a bland, repetitive folk song.

'Five Minutes' opens with delicate, clear piano. It then descends into the sustained finger picking then Gretchen sings about kicking the habit, smoking. It's a lyrical track with many references to literal figures and personal love. Revolving the romantic lyrics around the idea of a smoking break. 'Camille' has a darker feel. The eerie piano work sounds carefully composed with Gretchen's vocals sitting on top with great emphasis on the chorus. We hear some brilliant Jazz structure on this song.

The final three songs are far darker than previous songs on this album. The cold 'Natural Disaster' has beautiful vocals and the tear worthy lyrics mention several natural disasters. It's a very dark lyrical theme and sensitive. Gretchen delivers the vocal perfectly. further darkness surrounds the string filled 'Idlewild'. With it's disastrous lyrics, the vocal delivery outweighs the repetitive instrumental of very basic percussion and left sided guitar. It's similar with the final track 'Little World'. We hear some extended delicate piano playing and desperate vocals, but again the basic instrumentation gets on my nerves.


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