THE SHOW (Live From the UK)
Proper Records/Scarlet Letter Records
Even Better Than Any Studio Based Greatest Hits Package Can Capture.
My father used to say “God acts in mysterious ways” and I’ve often found solace in that adage when things that really can’t be explained happen in my life.
In this case, I’ve had this remarkable double album for a month now and played it in full; every couple of days, yet never felt ‘the right time’ for writing up a review. With the release date looming I decided that this morning would have to be ‘the right time’. So as I drank my morning tea perusing my Social Media accounts I stumbled on a friend forwarding the message that from June 2023 Gretchen and Barry Walsh would cease touring; while still recording.
That news somehow makes this Live Recording even more important; don’t ya think?
I presume Gretchen planned the release to coincide with that news; and that may or may not account for the sequencing that makes the haunting Arguing With Ghosts as the lead song …. my memory doesn’t tell me that it was or wasn’t the first song of the night when I saw her on this particular tour …. but it certainly makes for a fascinating intro.
This is followed by Hello Cruel World; again ….. was this a ‘secret message’ to her legion of fans …. or just a coincidence?
Enough of this ‘movement in shadows’ malarkey ….. let’s just talk about the music.
To some degree this Double Album is a Greatest Hits; but with a couple of left of centre songs from her 40 year career tucked in for good measure.
For your information; and you’d never know it; but these songs were recorded over three seperate nights at three seperate concert halls around the UK; yet the end result sounds absolutely perfect, so a huge round of applause to the producer and engineers (as well as the soundmen in the venues).
It’s a given at this stage, that Gretchen sounds pitch perfect (as does Barry Walsh btw) on every song; so for me it’s the song selection that is most noteworthy.
I was going to say that those first two songs were ‘recent’ yet; Arguing With Ghosts has just celebrated it’s 8th Birthday and Hello Cruel World its 11th!
These are followed by Secret of Life which is surely from the same vintage; but no ….. its 26 years old…. yet still hitting nails bang on the head in 2022.
I was late to the party and only discovered the musical delights of Ms Peters via the Hello Cruel World album which I reviewed for a magazine; pretty much unaware that her career went back decades earlier; and I’m sure the first time I saw Gretchen Peters it was just her and Barry Walsh on stage in true troubadour fashion, singing the likes of Hello Cruel World, Revival, The Matador and Five Minutes with just a guitar and piano for accompaniment; here they get the full nine yards; guitars (electric and acoustic), piano, bass and most importantly …. a full and sumptuous string section.
Which brings me to the part about what a great songwriter Gretchen Peters is; and always has been. These songs and more here; would all have sounded just as powerful when sung so sparsely in clubs and small theatres in their earlier performances; and lose not a jot when filled out for large concert halls.
I’ve been thrilled to hear songs like the majestic Say Grace and the very acutely observed When All You’ve Got is a Hammer, which opens the second album like an old friend re-entering your life.
As I implied earlier; I’ve been listening ever more intently this morning; which appears to have brought out even extra depth to Blackbirds, Disappearing Act and Everything Falls Away; as if they needed anything extra to make them any more special.
Of course the beautiful On a Bus To St. Cloud, Blackbirds and Say Grace in any format will always be Favourites of mine; but as usual I’m going off piste for Favourites on this particular album as I’d forgot how wonderfully observed Love That Makes a Cup of Tea and album closer Idlewild were … in fact I’d forgot that both were even Gretchen Peters songs.
If there’s one song that you should hear to understand why Gretchen Peters’ fans are so loyal (and vocal) it’s possibly Five Minutes, where she captures the minutiae of a Blue Collar woman’s life in …. Five Minutes.
Then; there’s When You Love Someone ….. WOW! What a song! Hearing Gretchen and Barry harmonising like the Everly Brothers has been like having my heart X-rayed.
Then, there’s the most pertinent song here (for me at least) …… When You Are Old; man oh man ….. one of her oldest songs here ….. written in 1991 when she was in her early 40’s yet somehow has a writer’s foresight to see into the future and hearing her sing this in 2022 with just as much heartfelt l.o.v.e in her voice nearly reduced me to tears, and the long applause at the ends shows that it’s not just me who thinks so …. making it my Favourite Track here.
There’s not a lot else to say; her fans were always going to buy this; and especially now Gretchen has announced her retirement from touring will bring a few more waverers to the party; and I can’t think of a better way to say farewell to this particular part of her life; possibly even better than any studio based Greatest Hits package can capture.
Released 19th August 2022
BUY DON’T SPOTIFY