Live review: The Scotsman Gretchen Peters at Glasgow Arches

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Review: Gretchen Peters, Glasgow Arches
By SUE WILSON
Published on Monday 5 March 2012 03:49

The songs from Nashville singer-songwriter Gretchen Peters’ eighth studio LP, January’s Hello Cruel World, offer powerful proof that even in the age of Twitter, rolling news and citizen journalism, the immediate response ain’t necessarily the be all and end all.

Peters has explained that the album is the creative fruit of a combined annus mirabilis/horribilis back in 2010, during which she got married (to her longtime pianist Barry Walsh), learned that her son was transgender, lost a friend of 30 years to suicide and was afflicted by wider disasters both man-made and natural.

The material’s slow ripening – into what’s been widely hailed as a career-best recording – was evident firstly in that none of it directly addressed any of the above experiences, instead eloquently reflecting the soul-searching and re-evaluation they prompted, and the eventual acceptance that “life is still a beautiful disaster”, as she put it in one of the new tracks, the gospel-tinged Dark Angel. Starting with its title track, Hello Cruel World – performed in its entirety here – finds richly fertile ground in such double-edged yet ultimately affirmative sentiments, often via deftly imagined characters and metaphors, like the narrator whose “complicated” lover is eponymously symbolised in The Matador, or the circus knife-thrower’s assistant in Woman on the Wheel. Five Minutes and Camille were empathetic portraits of women near despair, both studies in plainspoken yet poetic economy, while Idlewild stunningly captured the past/present perspective of recollected childhood vignettes. Peters’ compelling wordcraft was matched by equally seasoned delivery – understated yet trenchant, husky yet honeyed, and vividly articulated.

Rating: ****