A lot of great reviews have been coming in for Hello Cruel World; here’s a sampling:
Hello Cruel World
Scarlet Letter Records
Warm and intelligent country songwriting
2007’s Burnt Toast & Offerings established her as the natural successor to Lucinda Williams – this does not contradict the notion. Her songs combine swagger with sensitivity – “I’m a girl without a safety net/I’m a cause for some concern” she boasts on the title track – using simple language and strong themes to sell powerful stories about women and life. “The Matador” – written with Tom Russell, with whom she has much in common – is a marvelous late-Springsteen metaphor masquerading as a border ballad, “Paradise Found” is belting Southern rock, while “Idlewild” offers a personal slant on national drift. -Peter Watts
Hello Cruel World
Songs for grown-ups. From Nashville.
Probably because her songs have provided rich pickings for others, Gretchen Peters tends to get overlooked as a performer in her own right. A pity, because as Hello Cruel World again shows, she’s a class act. As a singer she’s warm and natural. Still, it’s as a writer where she really shines: lean and poetic, unafraid to tackle the deep, poignant stuff, yet strongly melodic too. With themes ranging from the loss of innocence to questions of faith and the recognition that life, for all its frequent disappointments, is still worth fighting for, it makes for an affecting, beautifully measured, very grown-up affair. –Peter Kane
LONDON TIMES (UK)
Hello Cruel World
When you find yourself listening to a song in which the entire chorus consists of the singer murmuring “hmm”, you know you are either in the presence of a songwriter who hasn’t quite grasped the rudiments of the craft, or of one who has mastered them so completely, she can do anything she likes. In the case of Gretchen Peters – and the artfully crafted St. Francis – it’s very much the latter. The album’s opening line, “I haven’t done as well as I thought I would”, sets the tone for songs that reflect a traumatic period in the singer’s life, in which she has dealt with eco-disasters on her doorstep, the suicide of a close friend and the news that her son is transgender. It’s not a laugh a minute, then, but Peters’s conclusion that life is “a beautiful disaster” seems nicely, and wryly, balanced. -Mark Edwards
Gretchen Peters, Hello Cruel World
* * * 1/2 POP
“It ain’t your fears so much as what your fears reveal,” sings Peters, who has written hits for Martina McBride, Faith Hill, Sara Evans and others. She reveals plenty as she assumes the personae of a knife-thrower’s assistant, a matador’s lover, a luncheonette waitress. Peters faces down her fears with strength and eloquence. — Brian Mansfield, USA Today
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. -Thom Jurek
FINANCIAL TIMES (UK)
Gretchen Peters: Hello Cruel World
By Ludovic Hunter-Tilney
Nashville singer-songwriter’s music has the sweet ache of 1970s Tom Waits
Hello Cruel World’s title track introduces a typical Gretchen Peters’ heroine, bruised by life but indomitable; a point reinforced by the way the song’s lush country-pop rises and falls. Best of all is “Five Minutes” in which the Nashville singer-songwriter imagines a luncheonette waitress on a cigarette break, reflecting on teenage pregnancy and romantic disappointment.
The music has the sweet ache of 1970s Tom Waits while the lyrics pack an extraordinary amount of story-telling into five minutes.
DAILY MIRROR (UK)
Hello Cruel World
Nashville-based Grammy nominated singer-songwriter Peters has always been a class act, but the blend of fearlessness and beauty in the songs on this album raises her game. Her empathetic vocal and cast of collaborators put a premium on simplicity and directness.
Hello Cruel World
Nashville-based singer-songwriter Gretchen Peters is still best-known as a writer for such major stars as Martina McBride, George Strait, Bryan Adams, Patty Loveless, Faith Hill, Pam Tillis and many others, despite the fact that over the past sixteen years or so she’s released some superb albums and has toured extensively, especially in the UK where she commands a strong and loyal underground following. Despite those hits for more famous artists, arguably, the best interpretations of Gretchen’s songs are her own. This latest album is ample proof of that fact, with a selection of eleven songs that explore the human frailties with great sensitivity, honesty and pure emotion. In many respects, as the title suggests, this can be viewed as a concept or protest album, except Gretchen doesn’t often make her targets that identifiable, nor spend that much of any song taking a platform or addressing social ills. Instead, she presents profiles and portraits of unusual characters and odd situations, sometimes raising and then answering questions, but on other occasions simply stating ugly facts and moving on through the song. The results are a fascinating collision via song between what she hopes will happen and what she’s seen suggests will occur. There is a shimmering sonic quality throughout the album that is polished but not too slick. The arrangements are built around Gretchen’s distinctive acoustic guitar and husband Barry Walsh’s keyboards. Adding to the album’s gorgeous instrumental mélange is versatile guitarists Will Kimbrough and Doug Lancio, bassist Viktor Krauss and trumpeter Vinnie Ciesielski all capable of both subtlety and force.
The songs take a few listens to really involve the listener, none more so than Idlewild, a song that though very personal to Gretchen, is actually universal in its story of an unravelling marriage break-up through the eyes of a child interspersed with the unravelling of the American myth that everything is ok in the world because you’re living in the land of the free … such innocence, both a child’s and a country’s, is demolished in just over five-minutes of pure songwriting poetry. That leads into album closer Little World that puts our existence, both personal and on a world-wide scale, into perspective. She explores the endless questions of faith and spirituality in songs like St Francis with ethereal harmonies provided by Kim Richey or the powerful Dark Angel with Rodney Crowell adding his distinctive vocal to possibly the album’s standout track. There’s no question about it, Hello Cruel World is a jewel—surely it will end up as the most important record to emerge in 2012.