Burnt Toast & Offerings

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by Gretchen Peters

there was a girl who used to live here
sometimes you still can hear her laugh
see her planting in the garden
see her soaking in the bath

but you let her beauty go unnoticed
you let her music go unheard
you should have listened when she told you
you should have hung on every word

now i’m a ghost, i haunt this house
and wait for love to lift this shroud
take these withered dreams and let ’em go
i’m a ghost, i’m what remains
i walk these halls and curse these chains
and think about the things i loved the most
i’m a ghost

if i was looking for redemption
well i know it isn’t here
and i won’t hang around forever
so you can watch me disappear

so now i’m stuck here in this limbo
waiting for my soul’s release
maybe a garden of my own somewhere
where i can find a little peace

it’s much too late for blame
but would it have killed you to say my name?

i’m a ghost…

© 2006 sony/atv tunes/gretchen peters music (ASCAP)

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by Gretchen Peters

there’s a dog a’barking
there’s no sunday parking
no standing nine to noon
and the air is breezy
and the day breaks easy
and the traffic hums a tune

there’s a sunday paper
and a sleepy neighbor
and a cat curled at your feet
there’s a breakfast frying
and a baby crying
and your smile is all I need

and we’re talking (and i love to hear you)
and we’re laughing (and i love to see you)
and we’re taking time and making love so sweet
and the birds sing (i can hear them singing)
and the bells ring (i can hear them ringing)
and it’s Sunday morning up and down my street

where the sidewalk’s broken
there’s a cafe open
people spilling out the door
and you’re softly hummin’
and the day is comin’
when we won’t be sad no more

© 2005 sony/atv tunes/gretchen peters music (ASCAP)

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by Gretchen Peters

i got sand between my toes and beach tar on my feet
and my air conditioner don’t work in this late August heat
i got a top forty radio song stuck in my head
can’t shake it loose can’t get myself out of bed
and i’m tired of the tv news think i’ll read a book instead

i been waitin’ tables all summer at this place on the strip
bustin’ all kinds of business for two bucks and tips
i got a long list of reasons and a very short fuse
a half pack of cigarettes and a room full of blues
and i’m tired of these summer people with their summer tattoos

i know you don’t wanna hear it but i’m telling you now
cause i think somebody’s got to come clean about this whole thing somehow
you say you were only tryin’ to get yourself free
don’t mean nothin’ as far as i can see
you ain’t no better than them the way you walked out on me

i think i’m callin’ it quits i think i’ve had enough
of people leaving their messes for me to clean up
i’m gonna take a vacation go somewhere in the snow
i’m tired of the sun and the top forty radio
and i’m tired of these summer people, wish they’d all just go home

© 2004 sony/atv tunes/purple crayon music (ASCAP)

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by Gretchen Peters

oh Jezebel
you can’t just tell them how you feel
they see the world in black and white and red
and Jezebel
it’s just as well, what’s done is done
you’ll never change the thoughts inside their heads

oh Jezebel
with every cell you reached for love
and found it in an old familiar face
and Jezebel
it hurts like hell but then again
where would you be without love’s warm embrace

wear it like a crown
don’t let them take you down

hey Jezebel
you mustn’t dwell on small details
there’ll always be some battles you can’t win
but Jezebel
you’ll live to tell and love again
your pride’s your gift, and love your only sin

wear them like a crown
your scarlet hand-me-downs

hey Jezebel
they say you fell so far, so fast
you burned your angel wings on your way down
ah Jezebel
you’ve been to hell and heaven too
and love’s the only refuge that you’ve found
hey Jezebel, love’s all that matters now

© 2006 sony/atv tunes/gretchen peters music (ASCAP)

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by Gretchen Peters

what makes your heart so bitter
what makes your road so rough
what makes your cup half empty
there’s never near enough

what makes you look right through me
what demon from your past
what are you looking for
inside that whisky glass

you’re always thirsty
you’re always thirsty
and you’re never satisfied

what makes me feel so broken
so empty and so wild
what makes me feel so restless
like some lonely orphan child

i’m always thirsty
i’m always thirsty
and i’m never satisfied

what makes this house so frigid
feels like a cold steel trap
what makes us pace like wild things
what turned us mean like that?

we’re always thirsty
we’re always thirsty
we’re never satisfied

© 2006 sony/atv tunes/gretchen peters music (ASCAP)

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by Gretchen Peters

we’ll take the redeye flight and leave Nashville way behind
i got a feeling everything’s gonna work out fine
three thousand miles from Tennessee
in between the devil and the deep blue sea
take the redeye flight and leave Nashville way behind

got my hand on the wheel and i’m drivin’ on the left hand side
hold on baby it’s gonna be a hell of a ride
god save the queen and the BBC
they can’t do nothin’ ‘bout you and me
got my hand on the wheel and i’m drivin’ on the left hand side

holed up in a hotel room on the river Tyne
just me and my baby and a do not disturb sign
24 hours by the hotel clock
hotel maid goin’ knock knock
holed up in a hotel room on the river Tyne

i got one shot left and i’m bettin’ it all on us
we’re gonna make it to Londontown or bust
a whole lot of people said it couldn’t be done
but just look at us now just watch us run
i got one shot left and i’m bettin’ it all on us

we’ll take the redeye flight and leave Nashville way behind
got a real good feeling everything’s gonna work out fine
three thousand miles from Tennessee
in between the devil and the deep blue sea
take the redeye flight and leave Nashville way behind

© 2006 sony/atv tunes/gretchen peters music (ASCAP)

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by Gretchen Peters & David Mead

open up your suitcase and show me what you got i don’t need a new religion i don’t need no pans or pots
but your little ritual
might entertain me

yeah the lady of the house is in and might be so inclined
if you’re selling something sacred I might be ready to buy
it’s not unthinkable
that you might save me

so i will wait for you
see just what this love can do
i will wait for you
to show me something bright and new
i will wait for you

did you find redemption in your thirty dollar suit
or maybe resignation would be closer to the truth
like you’re invisible
the way that i am

some nights i lie awake and wonder if i’ve finally gone insane
but if i don’t do nothin nothin’s ever gonna change
i’m available
i think you understand

and i will wait for you
see just what this love can do
i will wait for you
to show me something bright and new
i will wait for you

see just what this love can do
see just what this love can do
see just what this love can do

so open up your suitcase and show me what you got
i don’t need a new religion i don’t need no pans or pots
it’s not unthinkable
that you might love me

© 2005 sony/atv tunes/gretchen peters music (ASCAP) and da we phonetic/swing thoughts (BMI)

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by Harold Arlen & Johnny Mercer

it’s quarter to three
there’s no one in the place, just you and me
so set ‘em up Joe
i got a little story i think you should know
we’re drinking, my friend
to the end of a brief episode
make it one for my baby
and one more for the road

i got the routine
put another nickel in the machine
i’m feeling so bad
can’t you make the music easy and sad
i could tell you a lot
but you’ve gotta be true to your code
make it one for my baby
and one more for the road

you’d never know it
but buddy, i’m a kind of poet
and i got a lot of things to say
and when i’m gloomy
won’t you listen to me
until it’s talked away

well that’s how it goes
and Joe i know you’re getting anxious to close
so thanks for the cheer
i hope you didn’t mind my bending your ear
but this torch that i’ve found
it’s gotta be drowned or it soon will explode
make it one for my baby
and one more for the road

© 1943 (renewed 1971) harwin music co. (ASCAP)

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by Gretchen Peters

it’s something like grace
the way you look at me
kinda like you see me
in my finest hour
it’s something like church
the way it’s supposed to be
when I get down on my knees and feel the power

it’s kinda like a wildfire
burnin’ up the mountainside
it’s kinda like a freight train
comin’ off the track
it’s kinda like a freefall
the way i feel inside
when there ain’t no turning back

if i cried a thousand tears
if i lived a thousand years
i could never find a way to make you see
i’ll never understand the way you move me

you left your words
all across my memory
you left your mark
like a burning brand
you left your fingerprints
all over me
and now you’re everywhere i am

if i cried a thousand tears
if i lived a thousand years
i could never find a way to make you see
i’ll never understand the way you move me

© 2004 sony/atv tunes/purple crayon music (ASCAP)

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by Gretchen Peters

this town is a lot like me
sadder and wiser than it used to be
a little sprawled out, a little rundown
i wonder what’s gonna become of this town

this town has its highs and lows
and a hole in the middle where nobody goes
people come through but they don’t hang around
nobody wants to get to the heart of this town

this town has its own sweet charms
open your heart and it’ll open its arms
take you by the hand and show you around
there’s still a lot of life left in this town

all that i can see is lovers kissing in the street
swaying to the beat of a rusty radio
all that i can hear another late night symphony
the sound of traffic moving like an undertow

this town can’t get no rest
everybody thinks that they know best
they’re either building it up or they’re tearing it down
they can’t seem to love it like it is, this town

all i wanna do tonight is kiss you in the street
swaying to the beat of a rusty radio
all i wanna do is feel your arms around me too
pullin on my body like an undertow

this town is a lot like me
a little coat of paint & some TLC
and she’ll light right up if you come around
you know that you never wanna leave this town

© 2005 sony/atv tunes/gretchen peters music (ASCAP)

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by Gretchen Peters

this is how it is
no dramatic scenes
you read your morning paper
i read my magazine
happy weatherman
says we need the rain
but i don’t know what he’s thinking
it’s been coming down for days

and this brew is just too bitter
too strong for me to drink
gonna pour it down the drain right now
right down the kitchen sink
cold coffee in my cup
you turn the tv up
breakfast at our house

and this is how it is
and it’s no easy trick
we can promise what we want to
but we can’t make it stick
half a life ago
with this ring we wed
and now we’re sittin’ at this table
with the things we never said

but to come right out and say ’em
would be rude and out of place
so I’ll keep it to myself I guess
but it’s written all across your face
burnt toast and offerings
that’s what the morning brings
breakfast at our house

so here’s to all the young boys, to all the fair haired girls
who ran away on honeymoons, who married in a whirl
whose pretty bed of roses feels like a bed of coals
who sit at breakfast tables and stare into their bowls
who had their dreams of love, but now they’re waking up
breakfast at our house
cold coffee in my cup, you turn the tv up
breakfast at our house

© 2006 sony/atv tunes/gretchen peters music (ASCAP)

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by Gretchen Peters

children playing – night is falling
stars are winking in the sky
supper’s cooking – Mama’s calling
but they’re not ready to say goodbye

while you’ve been sleeping, i’ve been walking
i’ve been restless but i swear i don’t know why
i’m not crying, it’s just raining
and i’m not ready to say goodbye

we are dreamers slowly waking
we are shooting stars across a midnight sky
we are strangers in the making
but we’re not ready to say goodbye

i’m no angel, i’m no demon
i’m no christian but i ain’t afraid to die
i’m not leavin, i’m just goin
cause you’re not ready to say goodbye

ghosts and angels on my street now
yes and there but for the grace of god go i
so draw the curtain light the lamp now
cause i’m not ready to say goodbye
you’re not ready to say goodbye
we’re not ready

© 2005 sony/atv tunes/gretchen peters music (ASCAP)

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1. Ghost – It starts in the third person, but shifts to first person in the chorus. This wasn’t really intentional and at first I thought about "fixing" it, but then decided that it’s more true this way. With the passing of years you can become someone unrecognizable to your younger self. This felt like the opening song of the album to me, a portrait of a woman who feels she has become invisible.

2. Sunday Morning (Up And Down My Street) – A little snapshot of contentment, with maybe just a thread of wistfulness running through ("the day is coming/when we won’t be sad no more"). When I wrote this song I was so happy to be in what felt like the right place, both physically and spiritually, but there is no change without loss, sadness and upheaval. There are a few landmarks from my new neighborhood – the cafe, the church bells.

3. Summer People – Growing up spending summers at the beach I always heard the locals refer to "summer people".If you were local, you didn’t get too close, although summer romances were inevitable. Everyone knows the summer people are only there for the season and they leave as soon as the weather turns cold. A metaphor for inconstancy. I actually wrote this song while walking the beach.

4. Jezebel – A response to those who moralize about others’ lives, especially where matters of the heart are concerned. In the end, we love who we love. When I wrote this I was falling in love under very difficult circumstances, and really wrote it for, and to, myself. Basic track, including vocal, was recorded live – the only overdubs we did were the strings and horns on the choruses.

5. Thirsty – Another portrait of marital disconnect. We’re all thirsty for something; we just find different ways to quench it. Some do it with alcohol, some do it with religion, some do it with sex… Doug Lancio is playing a cheap $20 TrueTone guitar on this track, and Jim Hoke’s drunken clarinet was the coup de grace.

6. England Blues – I’ve spent a lot of time touring in the UK. It’s gotten under my skin; the more muted colors of the land and sky, the weight of all that history, the dry English humor… That hotel in Newcastle had the saggiest mattress I’ve ever slept on. When I’m there for weeks at a time there are moments when I just can’t face another English breakfast or BBC news announcer – but give me a week or two at home and I’m ready to go back.

7. The Lady Of The House – David Mead and I sat down to write some songs and this one practically leaped out. He had a fragment of an idea that began with "open up your suitcase…". I can’t remember who came up with the scenario of the traveling salesman and the neglected housewife, but it came together very quickly after that. She has a bit of contempt for him in the beginning, which is a touch I like very much; eventually she comes around, as we all do, to the power and the possibility of love. Doug played an acoustic guitar with brushes, like you’d use on drums.

8. One For My Baby – We were on tour in the UK and had a night off in London, where we went to see The Rat Pack, a big hit musical. Barry Walsh and I decided right there we needed to learn this song. At first I was a little squeamish about taking on something so closely identified with Sinatra, but the brilliance of the song won me over and I started to hear it as just a beautiful sad barroom ballad. I also started to see how it fit into the overall themes of Burnt Toast & Offerings. We tried to record it the old-fashioned way; the piano miked from far away, everyone in the same room together, do it ’til you get the magic take.

9. The Way You Move Me – The redeeming and transformative power of love – how it feels just at the beginning – the sweetest and most ephemeral of feelings. A real love song, maybe the first straightforward, unguarded and guileless one I’ve written.

10. This Town – I wrote this around the time I moved downtown from the suburbs where I had been living. I found a sort of parallel between the funky old downtown area where I was living and the way I was feeling; a little fragile but also reborn. I think of this as a happy song. We played the Celtic Connections festival in 2006 with Patty Griffin and Doug Lancio, and Doug suggested we put some of the same Celtic instrumentation on it as the wonderful Scottish musicians who played with us there.

11. Breakfast At Our House – A marriage sometimes dies quietly, by degrees; more atrophy than catastrophe. A bookend to "Ghost". We intended to fade this song, but fell in love with the music in the fade, so we left it in.

12. To Say Goodbye – I had fragments of this song for quite some time, but didn’t feel confident enough to play them for anyone. I knocked together a little track with a drum loop myself, and then played with the vocals. Eventually I played it for Doug, who imagined the whole sort of ramped-up drum feel in the middle section of the song. It’s about the long, agonizing process of getting ready to leave but not knowing where to start, how to say goodbye. Waiting for that slow turning. It felt like the last song to me.

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Gretchen Peters
Burnt Toast & Offerings
(Scarlet Letter)

by Holly Gleason

You have to watch the quiet ones. Sometimes the loudest truths are served with a whisper. Gretchen Peters, who has written some of country’s most intelligent songs of life’s complications, offers a hushed benediction for a woman emerging from the chilled-over remains of what is truly not enough to flower into full potential. Burnt Toast & Offerings captures high suburbia, with its privilege and settling. The shimmering "Ghost" and vamping "Thirsty" speak to the vast waves of emptiness in a life gone dry, while "Jezebel" is an exhaled ponder on the one who finds live in a parched soul, suffering the blame from bringing another alive. With subdued arrangements meant to evoke and conjure, Burnt Toast is an adult album that embraces the courage it takes to be happy, the wisdom of being willing, and the strength it takes to let go. Even Sinatra’s "One For My Baby" has the muted erotic charge of the freshly awakened, capturing the thrill of what can be in a world where understanding how hollow it can become raises the stakes exponentially.

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by David McGee

Emerging from the ashes of a 23-year marriage she chose to end, Gretchen Peters (aided by co-producer Doug Lancio) has fashioned a wondrous, wrenching personal reflection on love. Setting her personal reflections to music and arrangements that have, at times, a spare beauty and, at others, a soaring but demure grandeur, Peters makes sure that nothing’s overdone, despite the presence of orchestral elements, cooing pop background voices, and evocative instrumental flourishes courtesy of violins, violas, cellos, and clarinets. Peters doesn’t pretend to answer the multitude of questions she raises — indeed, she is as puzzled by the ways of the heart as everyone else — but she has a poet’s eye for the telling detail. In "Ghost," a terse, Allison Krauss-like meditation that opens the album, she admits to not recognizing herself anymore in the wake of her personal calamity; she follows this with "Sunday Morning (Up and Down My Street)," which is built on a folksy, acoustic finger-picked opening, recounting the memory of "making love so sweet" when everything seems promising; from this high, the sweet melody and laconic rhythm of "Summer People" mask a searing indictment of a feckless lover. Then she turns around in the moody "Jezebel" and skewers herself. It’s almost as if every happy memory is shadowed by the certainty of an inevitable parting. In this context, the jaunty take on the lone cover here, Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen’s classic saloon song "One for My Baby," seems like a benediction, except that there’s more drama forthcoming. Deep and deeply beautiful, Burnt Toast & Offerings is a fully realized work of art.

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by Thom Jurek

When it comes to articulating your own inspiration, sometimes it takes a while. Gretchen Peters is well-known in Nashville and pop circles as a top-shelf songwriter whose tunes have been woven into hits by everyone from Neil Diamond to Bonnie Raitt to Martina McBride. She has been able to dig into an aesthetic terrain in second and third persons and come up with topics and stories that are distilled archetypes for every woman and man; they offer metaphors, accidental instruction, and the direct transfer of emotion to anyone who has truly heard them. She’s been making her own records for over a decade now and performing live, but she’s never been able to completely deliver on tape those beautiful songs she’s written. Not until now, that is. Peters’ 2007 recording, Burnt Toast & Offerings, was written completely in the first person, a change for her. As a writer, she’s peered down into her own well far enough to be able to see what’s there, and bring out what she sees into her songs. On this set, she’s simply jumped off the edge, without looking for a place of safety to grasp onto. She doesn’t see around and through the emotions that come up to greet her. Instead, she’s immersed herself in them. She’s gotten wet and dirty in the center of that abyss and discovered a baptism, in the fountain of her own heart. In this seemingly dark and dank place, where the sunlight above is just a glimmer, she’s discovered an inner guiding light, the voice of her own hunger and the answer to prayers and pleadings to earthly and heavenly powers: the revelation of love.

Burnt Toast & Offerings is a record about the messiest part of love — the barren desert where it unravels, falls apart, and empties one out, leaving one broken and seemingly alone, in a strange land where all previously known has been spirited away. She reveals that love demands nothing less than total surrender in order to open to it fully and experience its bounty. No matter what it looks like, its promise is enough. With the help of producer/guitarist Doug Lancio, piano and keyboard wiz Barry Walsh, bassist Dave Francis, and drummer John Gardner (with guest musicians in tow), Peters delivers a set of new songs that is simply searing in its lyric honesty and accompanying melodies, sophisticated enough in musical arrangements to carry them to the listener as a gift. The songs offer an encounter with beauty in all its marred, tragic, and transformative glory. The sound of the recording is pristine; it reveals in clear, wide-open tones and abundant — though never excessive — atmospheric ones, the struggles and epiphanies these protagonists experience. The hunger is heard in the set’s opening cut, "Ghost," as a single harmonic chord and bowed cello usher in these a cappella words: "There was a girl who used to live here/Sometimes you still can hear her laugh…but you let her beauty go unnoticed/And let her music go unheard/You should’ve listened when she told you/You should’ve hung on every word/Now I’m a ghost, I haunt this house/And wait for love to lift this shroud/Take these withered dreams and let ’em go/I’m a ghost…." The acoustic guitars swell; Lancio poignantly fills the space between Walsh’s organ and synths. Peters abandons herself to the maelstrom, which is enveloping. It’s one of the bravest opening tracks on a record in an age.

Lest things get too dark too quickly, "Sunday Morning (Up and Down My Street)," with its nearly nursery rhyme melody — thanks to the counterpoint guitars creating "ding-dong" effect — Peters paints a picture of contentment and stillness, a gratitude that embraces the moment when love is present and abundant. The listener has to wonder if this is a reminiscence of what was, or lives in the present. The temptation is toward the latter, especially as Peters’ voice rings so clearly, in a way it never has before, above the Hammond B-3 swells, an emergent cello, and a glockenspiel all sewn inside the slippery guitars. "Jezebel," introduced by a fingerpicked acoustic guitar, is in the protagonist’s mirror-imaged, self-referential voice, but it’s a manifesto. She confesses that her only sin is love, and that it is the only refuge, all that matters now. She reveals that she became an angel in her way, but has experienced heaven with those wings, too. Though the tune is plaintive and stark, it’s a real blow to the gut; it leaves the listener breathless. It’s followed by the smoky, film noir-ish jazz blues of "Thirsty," driven by spooky guitars and that wily B-3, colored by Jim Hoke’s clarinet. The key line: "I’m always thirsty/But never satisfied." "The Lady of the House," a shimmering confessional pop/rock song with a hypnotic little groove, offers this scandalous truth: "The lady of the house is in and might be so inclined/If you’re selling something sacred I might be ready to buy." Her cover of Harold Arlen’s "One for My Baby" is a slightly woozy, empty-barroom confessional. The protagonist is feeling painless enough to let it show in front of a trusted barkeep in the wee small hours of the morning. Walsh’s piano lines move through the blues and early jazz of the masters, finessing the melody while harmonically engaging history. The trio of strings — cello, violin, and viola — rises on the second verse, and brings the timelessness of both the emotion and the melody of the tune itself into the present moment. It’s a sad song, but it comes with the weight of nostalgia, and in the acceptance of loneliness, she conveys Arlen’s great hidden truth: "…Buddy, I’m a kind of poet/And I got lots of things to say…." Peters could have written that song herself.

Peters and her band cleverly follow this with "The Way You Move Me," a straight-up contemporary country love song that is at the crux of the album, and indeed is its hinge. The heroine, after all the crushing emotions and emptying bankruptcy of her spirit, has embraced love again — totally. She’s in its first flush: strong, dizzying, wondrous. The warm, flowing guitar fills, open basslines, and swirling keyboards only underscore the complete tenderness and amazement in the gorgeous grain of Peters’ voice. This song is likely to be covered, but it will never sound truer than it does right here. The genuine humility and willingness to open and embrace another on love’s tightrope is simply articulated with the most impure and elegant kind of poetry; the tune skips out of the gate and nearly staggers in the delight of the heightened awareness love brings. The last two songs here are truly climactic: "Breakfast at Our House" is a folk dirge about the breaking point, reached in an epiphany during breakfast across the kitchen table. Finally, there is "To Say Goodbye," a song that’s tricky, because all the conflict and pain — gracefully and dramatically carried by a wall of cello, bowed bass, twinkling guitars, and synth — given as the reason for letting go and for severing ties is not good enough; true resolution comes in remaining in the cradle of tribulation, in the face of difficulty and strain to see how it plays out. The singer’s final words are: "’Cause I’m not ready, to say goodbye/You’re not ready to say goodbye/We’re not ready…."

There is no fairy tale ending on Burnt Toast & Offerings; in fact, it does not end at all. As another fine songwriter once said: "Sometimes the truth that love brings/Is the hardest one to take." The observations and truths on this album actually feel like real life. This is Gretchen Peters’ finest moment as a recording artist, and perhaps her finest as a song-lyric poet as well. Her rhymes and melodies are sometimes stretched here, pushing at the meaning of words themselves to communicate what is clearly beyond them. And it is here, in these grooves, that the strength and determination in her voice — illustrated by musical accompaniment and production verging on brilliant — carry these songs from the depths and the darkness of her private well into the open air to be kissed by the light. The flaws she discovers are not merely revealed; they are celebrated. They come to us in the form of a record album of ruddy but welcome gifts, and we can accept or reject them but we cannot ignore them. Burnt Toast & Offerings is the most sophisticated and truthful recording about love since Nick Cave’s The Boatman’s Call. It’s not the next step for this contemporary singer and songwriter, but a giant leap, an aesthetic milestone that sets the bar higher not only for her but for anyone wishing to write songs honestly about the inside of a life in the process of being lived, a life that holds love as its zenith.

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