DANCING WITH THE BEAST
Beauty in the Darkness of Sad Songs and Taboo Subjects.
It’s funny how you discover an artist isn’t it? Sometimes it’s a song on the radio, occasionally an advert will catch your attention; or more likely for you it will be one of my amazing reviews. But for me and Gretchen Peters I still treasure the DIY Best Of CD my mate John created for me many years ago, even though the last three tracks no longer play and I now actually own all of the original albums the tracks come from.
Leap forward 10 years or so and I’ve found myself wallowing in the miserable beauty of her latest album for several weeks now; desperately keeping its majesty a secret from the rest of the world until now; the week of release.
When you get to our age (we were born only a couple of weeks apart) a lot has already happened in your life and suddenly a lot of people around you, loved ones and friends begin to get seriously ill and regularly die; as happened to Gretchen in 2017; leaving her in the depths of despair and add to that a Presidency that goes against everything she has stood for and campaigned against all through her adult life nearly brought her to her knees.
But; when you are an amazingly talented and Award winning songwriter it all gets stowed away until the day you can write it all down and set it to music…….hence DANCING WITH THE BEAST.
As regular readers will already know I’ve publicly battled my own Demons in recent years so the first time I heard opening song Arguing With Ghosts (and again last week) I found myself weakly smiling as tears ran down my cheeks. If I started quoting individual lines from this song about the sadness and loneliness felt after the death of a loved one I would end up posting the whole bloody song.
Then of course we have Gretchen’s ghostly approach to delivering this Modern Gothic Classic over a gentle piano and soft string section while the drummer sounds like only the shadows of the sticks are touching the skins.
Oddly enough; this song ties with one other as the RMHQ Favourite here.
Phew; onto the rest………
While still sad, this story is oddly scary to the core; Wichita which follows is a lot more upbeat and takes us into Dark Country Territory; and shows what an amazing imagination this particular songwriter has. By the way, it’s very unlikely you will ever hear this song on the radio; but don’t be surprised if it turned up on the soundtrack to some gruesome Murder Movie some time in the future.
Even though this is a particulary Dark album; there is still plenty of shade in the way the songs are created and the almost Classical tunes (think Bach and Dvorak) that accompany them.
The Show is a prime example, opening with some stark piano and Gretchen sounding like she’s holding back tears as she sings ‘Freight Train plays a major Southern Chord/sign across the street says Praise The Lord/hotel coffee tastes likes kerosene/Yet I fell as happy as I’ve ever been.’
As she herself says, “Sad songs make me happy” ….. me too.
There are plenty of ‘big songs’ included here that will get a lot of well deserved attention like Disappearing Act and The Boy From Rye instantly spring to mind; but there are a couple of hidden gems too; with Lay Low being something every musician in the world can associate with and possibly only Lucinda Williams would dare to write a song like Truckstop Angel such is the taboo subject of a drug addicted prostitute; but hey……..it’s truly magnificent and will stop you in your tracks just like a Hi Lux fired up on nitro would.
Before I get onto my other Favourite Song, I can’t not mention the title track Dancing With The Beast; another delicate heart-to-heart song about a taboo subject; as Gretchen takes the role of a woman in an abusive relationship and a song so intense and beautiful it surely must follow Blackbirds into the Winners Enclosure at the Grammy Awards.
Lowlands too is a brooding Country pot-boiler about a break-up and the loneliness that follows, primarily for women, and again Gretchen inhabits the soul of a woman in such a position in a way I can’t think any other singer-songwriter can.
A few weeks ago I reviewed Ben Glover’s new album and highlighted his co-write Say Grace with Gretchen Peters; and mentioned it appeared here too. There’s not a lot to choose between either version; but both singer’s distinctive voices bring a little extra ‘something’ out of an extraordinary set of words and an almost Mystical and Celtic tune.
Now, you may well ask how can any song be better than any of those last few songs and actually be good enough to tie with Arguing With Ghosts for the world renowned accolade of RMHQ Favourite title?
Well; the song that closes the album, Love That Makes a Cup of Tea is an intricately complex story masquerading as a simple Country-Folk song that her fans adore Gretchen Peters for and goes to show that no matter how dark you feel your life is; and we all get to feel that way some time…….True Love, a cup of tea and someone asking and meaning “How are you doing?” Gets you through even the most difficult of times. #FACT
So far 2018 is proving a spectacular year for the eclectic swathe of music we like at RMHQ but this particular album will certainly feature in our end of year Top 10; and will sit proudly in that ‘special box’ for those nights I need to wallow in the mud with someone who knows what it’s like to suffer the mental torture of depression.
Released May 18th 2018