Recently Sirius/XM asked me to host a series of shows on The Village, the folk channel. The show is called Tower Of Song, and the playlist for show #1, which aired on January 25, 2012, is below.

Show #1
(Feat. guest: Tom Russell)

intro: Tower Of Song

song: Leonard Cohen “Tower Of Song”
song: Bob Dylan “Girl From The North Country”
song: Lucy Kaplansky  “Land Of The Living”

song: Tom Russell “Goodnight Juarez”
guest: Tom Russell

song: Ian & Sylvia “Four Strong Winds”
song: Nanci Griffith “Trouble In The Fields”
song: Richard Shindell “Deportee”

song: Gretchen Peters “The Matador”
song: Jeffrey Foucault “One Red Rose”
song: Eliza Gilkyson “Beauty Way”

song: Simon & Garfunkel “Kathy’s Song”
song: Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem “Farewell to Saint Dolores”
song: Joni Mitchell “That Song About The Midway”

outro: Tower Of Song

This is the last in a series of blog entries about the songs on the upcoming album “Hello Cruel World”, to be released January 2012.

Nashville, 2010

 

Haven’t done as well as I thought I would

I’m not dead but I’m damaged goods

And it’s getting late

 

As we grow older, the monsters and ghosts that haunted us in childhood trade in their garish clothing for something more mundane, more fitting to middle-age. They take the shape of lost causes, lost opportunities, lost love. They stare back at us from the mirror. They go by names like Futility, Defeat, Failure.

 

You don’t live this long without regrets

Telephone calls you don’t wanna get

Stones you’d rather leave unturned

 

Anyone who’s telling the truth will tell you that there are regrets. Eventually your limitations, your weaknesses and your failures rise up to greet you, and you either make peace with them or they haunt you, or kill you. Keep moving forward. Survival is heroic. It’s the struggle, not the victory.

 

But ooh, the grain of sand becomes the pearl

Yeah, hello cruel world

 

“Hello Cruel World” by Gretchen Peters
©2011 Circus Girl Music, administered by Carnival Music (ASCAP)
from the upcoming album Hello Cruel World

photo by Gretchen Peters (all rights reserved)

This is the tenth in a series of blog entries about the songs on the upcoming album “Hello Cruel World”, to be released January 2012.


I threw a rose to the matador

Not sure who I was cheering for

My aim was true, my heart was full

I loved the fighter and the bull

 

Federico García Lorca describes the Spanish concept of duende as a kind of dark spirit, a creative power which seizes an artist and brings forth the deepest, most elemental creation. The artist does not surrender to the duende, but battles it, “on the rim of the well”. The power of the duende is such that it takes control not only of the performer but also the audience. We’ve all felt it when the hairs on our neck are raised by a singer in thrall to a song, when we inexplicably cry at the turn of a phrase. Duende brings the artist “face to face with death.” But what about his audience, and the woman who loves him?

To fall in love is to lose oneself temporarily. To be pulled into another’s world. To love an artist like this is to be pulled into the furnace of his creative fire, to be swallowed whole by his world. And to resign oneself to being a spectator, at times. But oh, the view.

I loved like only a woman can

a very complicated man

I bound his wounds I heard his cries

I gave him truth, I told him lies

 

“The Matador” by Gretchen Peters
©2011  Circus Girl Music, administered by Carnival Music (ASCAP)
from the upcoming album Hello Cruel World

Click here to watch the music video of “The Matador”

This is the ninth in a series of blog entries about the songs on the upcoming album “Hello Cruel World”, to be released January 2012.


i worship no idol i seek no god

i don’t believe in no holy jihad

i don’t believe in original sin

i believe in the heat underneath our skin

 

When we’re children we enjoy ourselves without self-consciousness. Then somewhere along the way we stop trusting pleasure. Our puritanical inheritance kicks in and our animal selves check out. We start to buy the idea that the carnal is, if not evil, at least base. And the schism between the mind, the heart and the body deepens, until our souls are so out of whack that we do something radical. Maybe something that looks like a midlife crisis, or a cri de coeur, or the act of a crazy person. But in this world awash in craziness – people mowing each other down in WalMart to buy televisions, churches exhorting their congregations to hate – is it so crazy to stop worshipping at their altars and turn towards home, and each other?

They say religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell; spirituality is for people who’ve already been there. We look for sustenance in a junk food world. Not so surprising that we find it by using our senses – the ones we were born with. Made in God’s own image, indeed.

 

when the Great Correction finally comes

goin’ back to the garden where we come from

gonna sow our seed in the good sweet ground

and let our love come tumbling down

“Paradise Found” by Gretchen Peters
©2011 Circus Girl Music, administered by Carnival Music (ASCAP)
from the upcoming album Hello Cruel World

photo by Alexis Elizabeth Harris (all rights reserved)

This is the eighth in a series of blog entries about the songs on the upcoming album “Hello Cruel World”, to be released January 2012.

Las Vegas, 2007


In the heat of the moment he cried out your name
But the moment it didn’t last long
Ten minutes later he’s driving away
And you’re putting your pantyhose on

 

The cracks are beginning to show. She hides behind a self-effacing laugh, but payment on that big debt is coming due. You can only bury the past for so long before it comes back up like a nasty splinter, working its way to the surface. Killing the pain trumps feeling the pleasure, what pleasure there is to feel. And there are so many ways to kill the pain. Endless, seductive, easy ways; sex, booze and drugs the old standbys, but they’re inventing new ones all the time.

The cruelest by-product of her pain is the shame, a layer of grime you can’t wash away with a hot shower and a cup of coffee. What happens to a little girl whose trust is violated by the one she trusts most? She decides it’s her own damn fault. That’s the conundrum, the riddle, the unknowable, heartbreaking salt in the wound. Wounded, we wound ourselves.


The sins of the fathers are not meant for daughters
But somehow you felt you’re to blame
And the ghost in your head and the men in your bed
They all look like they’re one and the same

“Camille” by Gretchen Peters, Matraca Berg & Suzy Bogguss
©2008 Sony/ATV Cross Keys Publishing/Gretchen Peters Music (ASCAP), Hannaberg Music, administered by Songs of Universal & Zoe Mahoney Music (BMI)
from the upcoming album Hello Cruel World

photo by Gretchen Peters (all rights reserved)

This is the seventh in a series of blog entries about the songs on the upcoming album “Hello Cruel World”, to be released January 2012.

Nashville, 2011


Baby lock that old front door

Got a good red wine to pour

Cause the world is just too much for me tonight

I’m a soldier back from war

Too tired to care no more

And too sad to put up any kind of fight

 

We’re all soldiers. Every one of us fights some kind of battle every day. The enemy may be the soul-sucking job, the overdue bills, the supermarket line, the alcoholic brother-in-law, the bully down the street, the bottle, the needle, the scale. The emptiness that won’t be filled no matter what you feed it. Life. We come home to the TV news – and it’s all bad. A relentless, soul-battering barrage of gloom, doom and horror.

And here, in a state somewhere between exhaustion and panic, we try to find something – peace, or maybe blessed oblivion. Retreat. Sometimes all you can do is all you can do. Lock the door, keep your angels close, and, be it ever so humble, give thanks for home.


From here to the garden gate

Is a world that we create

Just a little world

It’s just a little world

 

“Little World” by Gretchen Peters
©2011 Circus Girl Music, administered by Carnival Music (ASCAP)
from the upcoming album Hello Cruel World

photo by Gretchen Peters (all rights reserved)

This is the sixth in a series of blog entries about the songs on the upcoming album “Hello Cruel World”, to be released January 2012.

Las Vegas, 2007


There’s a man out here puts his head in the mouth of a crocodile

Puts the whole thing in, takes it out and gives the crowd a great big smile

And they walk away with their illusions of safety safely intact

And they tell their little wide-eyed kids it’s only an act

 

Picasso said that Art is a lie which makes us realize truth. It’s an act of death-defying. It’s a Hail Mary pass at eternity. The artist creates an illusion. The illusion is made of pieces of herself. Her blood, her tears, her sweat. Broken bones, broken hearts, broken lives. All of these glittering things are held together with hope and baling wire, to create something true.

The artist’s job is to “comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable”. She’s embracing failure, uncertainty, fear, death. Holding up a mirror.

Making you look.


They say I got a death wish, yeah, but I don’t think that’s true

As far as I can see it’s less about me and more about you

You see it ain’t your fears so much as what your fears reveal

I’m just the woman on the wheel

 

“Woman On The Wheel” by Gretchen Peters
©2008 Sony/ATV Cross Keys Publishing & Gretchen Peters Music (ASCAP)
from the upcoming album Hello Cruel World

photo by Gretchen Peters (all rights reserved)

This is the fifth in a series of blog entries about the songs on the upcoming album “Hello Cruel World”, to be released January 2012.

Savannah, Georgia, 2010


I got no use for harps and wings

I got no time for foolish things

There is no heaven, there is no hell

There’s only you, my dark angel

 

There are people who come into your life who seem too pure for this world. For them, the membrane that separates our protective delusions from the cruel world is paper-thin. They feel too acutely, empathize too much. Often, and perversely, they’re the ones who come into the world with the heaviest burdens. They wear a halo of vulnerability, but conceal a deep strength, too. They are the old souls.

Maybe they’re the real angels. Maybe heaven, and hell, are here, now. In pursuit of some idealized version of the future, and of ourselves, we overlook what’s staring us in the face. Our ragged, imperfect selves, living in our ragged, imperfect present. Each others’ angels, each others’ saviors.


and if there is no hereafter

and there is only here

life is still a beautiful disaster

ah, but we both know that, my dear

 

BeliefNet.com has featured “Dark Angel” as their Song Of The Week. Click on the link to preview the song. Many thanks to Rodney Crowell, who sings the duet vocal on “Dark Angel”.

“Dark Angel” by Gretchen Peters
© 2011 Circus Girl Music (ASCAP)
from the upcoming album Hello Cruel World

photo by Gretchen Peters (all rights reserved)

This is the fourth in a series of blog entries about the songs on the upcoming album “Hello Cruel World”, to be released January 2012.

New Orleans, 2010


Earthquake shook the California ground

Took a freeway out and some buildings down

Well I’ve never felt the earth move under my heels

But I got a pretty good idea how it feels

 

Flood, fire, earthquake, hurricane, tsunami. We go from calamity to calamity. Hello cruel world. Meanwhile the world spins on, unconcerned, deaf to our questioning. Why is this happening? What does it mean? We seek explanation, we blame God, we blame each other, we blame the Other. We look for signs and portents. To infer meaning from random events – it’s hubris, it’s human. Does nature make mistakes? Does God? Is it possible that none of it means anything, or more probably that the answer is so far beyond us that we can’t comprehend the question?

We build our houses on fault lines; we give our most vulnerable selves to each other – and sooner or later disaster strikes. Keep your heart and your door closed and you may be able to avoid pain, but you never feel the wild aliveness of the world. Open your heart and you risk it all. Love is a natural disaster.


They say it was a miracle no one died

Just two people hurt and some wounded pride

Love takes everything in its path

And leaves you breathless in the aftermath

 

“Natural Disaster” by Gretchen Peters
© 2011 Circus Girl Music (ASCAP)
from the upcoming album Hello Cruel World

photo by Gretchen Peters (all rights reserved)

This is the third in a series of blog entries about the songs on the upcoming album “Hello Cruel World”, to be released January 2012.

Pelham, New York, 1960s


They’re in the front seat, he’s got the radio low

And the moon hangs over Idlewild as the planes touch down

He is talking but she’s not listening

She is thinking of her father, who died when she was young

 

In the mid-1960s my little world and the much larger one around me were both coming apart at the seams. You don’t see the correlation until much later – years later – but it’s there, and from the distance of decades it takes on its own kind of symmetry. From that distance another thing becomes visible: how much things have changed, and how little. Families still fall apart, hate still spawns more hate, the names change but the troubles don’t.

My father was a journalist; his beat was the Civil Rights movement. After John F. Kennedy was assassinated, my father, in a state of grief and anger, locked himself in the basement. As a small child, I found that terrifying.  Not long afterwards, the family of Medgar Evers, the slain civil rights leader, came to stay at our home in Pelham, New York, so that his widow Myrlie and my father could work on her memoir. During their visit there was a snowstorm, and their youngest son, Van and I built a snowman together in the front yard. It was the first time Van had ever seen snow. He was momentarily transported beyond his grief by the magic of it.

On our black and white TV in the kitchen, I watched Kennedy riding in the back of a limo – shot, fatally wounded, and falling into his wife’s lap, over and over again. In my front yard I played in the snow with a little boy who saw his father gunned down in his own driveway. The political is personal; the personal is political. We think we’re walking on the moon, but we are dancing in the dark.


We shoot our rockets, we shoot our presidents

We shoot the commies and the niggers and the Viet Cong

Everything changes, everything stays the same

And the moon hangs over Idlewild as the planes touch down

 

“Idlewild” by Gretchen Peters
© 2010 Circus Girl Music (ASCAP)
from the upcoming album Hello Cruel World

This is the second in a series of blog entries about the songs on the upcoming album “Hello Cruel World”, to be released worldwide in early 2012.

Kansas, 2010

 

Most nights I come home from work and I pour a glass of wine

Sometimes it’s three or four before I stop

And Jesse makes a sandwich if I sleep through suppertime

And she leaves me on the couch to sleep it off

 

I know this woman. I see her in line at the grocery store, pouring coffee at a diner, stopped at a traffic light at rush hour. Part of me pities her, part of me admires her, part of me is her. There but for the grace of god. She’s caught at the crossroads where the struggle to come to terms with one’s mortality meets the urge to slip into unconsciousness. The hell with it; have another cigarette, another glass of wine, another piece of pie. Feeling the weight of her past, and watching it as it bears down on her own child.

But she’s a heroine, not a victim. It takes more guts to survive than to give up. To admit your mistakes, to acknowledge the hard truths and keep going. To persevere, to endure.

 

Somehow I’ve let myself go gently down the stream

A fine example I have set

Between the working and the livin’

and the ghosts that haunt my dreams

I’ve got five minutes, and I’m gonna smoke this cigarette

 

To view a clip from the recording of “Five Minutes”: Five Minutes string session with Chris Carmichael and David Henry

“Five Minutes” by Gretchen Peters
© 2010 Circus Girl Music (ASCAP)
from the upcoming album Hello Cruel World

photo by Gretchen Peters (all rights reserved)

This is the first in a series of blog entries about the songs on the upcoming album “Hello Cruel World”, to be released worldwide in early 2012.

New Orleans, 2010


Saint Francis begging at your doorway

You want to let him in but what will the neighbors say

And you know you can’t go on but you can’t give up

And he answers you with his begging cup

 

Saint Francis of Assisi, patron saint of ecology, among other things. He grew up wealthy, but chose to live in poverty. He begged on the streets. He is often pictured with animals, whom he called his brothers and sisters. Legend has it that he once brokered a peace between a wolf who was terrorizing a village, and its people. The wolf, he said, had “done evil out of hunger”. He made the townspeople promise to feed the wolf, and made the wolf promise not to harm them. Years later, the wolf died of old age, and the townspeople wept.

There’s a line of thinking floating about these days, that this world doesn’t matter, only the next. There’s no need to protect or respect the earth – use what we find, leave what we use, and move on to the next realm. Bring on the end times. What would Francis the environmentalist – he who called nature “the mirror of God” – make of this? What would he think about the obscene gusher of oil that sullied the Gulf of Mexico last year; the free floating soup of plastic in the Pacific gyre; the ice-free North Pole? How did we get to the point where we are made to choose, ideologically, between nature and spirit? Who is the wolf?

 

He’s been sleeping for 800 years

In a potter’s field full of sparrow’s tears

And while we sleep and dream of heaven’s gates

down here on earth the old man waits

 

“Saint Francis” by Gretchen Peters & Tom Russell
© Circus Girl Music & Frontera Music (administered by Bug Music) (ASCAP)
from the upcoming album Hello Cruel World

photo by Gretchen Peters (all rights reserved)

Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability.
— Sam Keen

Summer afternoon at the Bartlett Arboretum

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Hello Cruel World

Hello Cruel World, Gretchen Peters’ eighth album and her first solo studio effort in four years, will be released in early 2012. Recorded at Patty Griffin’s East Nashville studio and coproduced with Doug Lancio (Patty Griffin, The Greencards, John Hiatt), the album features a duet with Rodney Crowell (“Dark Angel”), and guest appearances by Kim Richey, Viktor Krauss and Will Kimbrough. Peters, Lancio and coproducer Barry Walsh (Tom Russell) also utilized the talents of Robert Plant’s Band of Joy rhythm section Marco Giovino and Byron House. The album contains 11 original songs written by Peters, including collaborations with singer-songwriters Matraca Berg, Suzy Bogguss and Tom Russell.

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Way Out West

We had a couple of great weekends out west in July; first we stopped in Livingston, Montana where Barry played with country legend Lynn Anderson. I was invited to do a little songwriter’s “show within a show” with Lynn and her husband Mentor Williams, who wrote “Drift Away” (one of the most-played songs in the world). It was big fun, and singing “I Never Promised You A Rose Garden” with Lynn was just another one of those moments where my job intersects with music history, and I am amazed at what I get to do for a living. Barry and I took the day off after the 4th of July to go to Yellowstone National Park. A friend in Livingston had recommended we hike the Wapiti Trail there, but at the last minute we ran out of time. The next day we received an email from our friend: that morning, a grizzly bear had fatally mauled a hiker on – you guessed it – the Wapiti Trail. We’re just glad to be here.

with Marshall Chapman & Matraca Berg on the mountainside amphitheater in Sundance

We then flew to Sundance, Utah, where we enjoyed more cool mountain air and gorgeous scenery, and I played two fun shows with Marshall Chapman and Matraca Berg. We especially loved playing at the outdoor amphitheater on the mountainside, and in homage to Robert Redford, founder of Sundance, Barry played us onstage to the strains of “The Way We Were”.

The cool mountain air was just a memory when we arrived in Okemah, Oklahoma the next weekend for WoodyFest, the folk festival which this year celebrated Woody Guthrie’s 99th birthday. It was 108°F when we arrived. It cooled down to 104° the next day. And yes, we were playing outdoors. Nevertheless we had a great time and saw lots of old friends like Jimmy LaFave, who has played at WoodyFest every year since it began, Andrew Hardin, who sat in with us for a couple of songs, and Ronny Cox, movie star (Deliverance), folk singer and all around nice guy (Ronny and I delved deep into the catalog of Mickey Newbury over dinner one night after the festival). The night after WoodyFest we drove to Belle Plaine, Kansas where we played at the wondrous Bartlett Arboretum with Jimmy LaFave. The story of the Arboretum is fascinating; it’s a magical oasis in the middle of the Kansas prairie. Lucky for us, it cooled down to 99°F that day.

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WSM – Air Castle of the South

at the legendary WSM studio

Barry Walsh and I will once again be appearing live on the legendary WSM Radio this Friday morning. We’ll be guests on “Coffee, Country and Cody” with host Bill Cody on Friday, August 5. The show will be broadcast from the Ford Theater at the Country Music Hall Of Fame, where we’ll also be appearing the next day, Saturday August 6 at 11:30AM, in the CMHOF’s Songwriter Sessions series. Listen for us on the radio on Friday during the 9:00AM hour. The show will also stream live at WSM’s website.

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Tour dates

We’re slowly adding a few tour dates to the calendar for 2012 Hello Cruel World Tour – there will be much more to come. Our UK/Europe tour is scheduled for March of 2012 and tentatively includes the UK, Germany and Holland – and there may be additional European dates, too – so stay tuned!

just one of the fabulous venues we'll be playing in 2012!

Because of the new album coming out next year, I’m not doing much touring for the rest of 2011, but we will be appearing at The 1st Annual Jimmy LaFave Music Road Songwriter Rendezvous in Lajitas, TX November 11-12. This is going to be a great event in a beautiful place and a chance for me to spend some quality musical time with one of my favorite singers, Jimmy LaFave. Jimmy’s other guests will be announced soon. Check Jimmy’s website and my tour dates for details coming in the next few weeks.

I’ll also be doing a mini-tour with Janis Ian, Craig Carothers and Tony Arata – we will be at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, GA for two nights September 1 & 2, followed by a Saturday night show September 3rd at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. We’d love to see you at one of the shows. If there’s a venue in your town you think we should be playing, let them know! You can direct them to the appropriate booking agent on the Contact page of my website.

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Behind The Hits interview

Recently I sat down with Ty Hager, who produces a show for American Forces Network called “Behind The Hits“. Our interview aired last Friday, but it’s archived here in telescoped (without music) form.

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Do you Tweet, Friend, Like or Ping?

Gretchen on Twitter – ephemeral tweets about anything and everything
Gretchen on Facebook – updates and interesting tidbits
Gretchen on Ping (iTunes) – a song or track every Monday that might be the best thing you’ve never heard

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Download of the Month

Kansas prairie covered in frost, November 2010

With the Kansas prairie in mind, August’s free download is a live version of Jennifer Warnes’ beautiful song, “Prairie Melancholy”, which I recorded on the album One To The Heart, One To The Head. The track was recorded by my nephew and sound engineer extraordinaire, Jon O’Leary, at Swallow Hill Music Association, Denver, Colorado on February 28, 2009; Barry Walsh on piano. To my knowledge, this is the only time we have ever performed the song live. Visit the Download page to get August’s free download.

x Gretchen