Circus Girl

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by Gretchen Peters

I work the high wire in the center ring
Defying gravity, that’s my thing
Guess I never wanted no regular life
I couldn’t stand to be nobody’s wife
Some people tell me that I’m livin’ their dream
But things in the circus ain’t what they seem
Believe me darlin’ it’s a lonely world
It ain’t easy for a circus girl

Nobody knows you when you come to town
You’re somebody’s hero or you’re somebody’s clown
And you hope like hell that it’ll be enough
Cause you’re nobody’s baby when the sun comes up
You can dazzle em with beauty
Make ’em laugh until they cry
You can give ’em the thrill of a lifetime
But they always say good-bye

It’s just that sometimes I get so tired
Of goin’ nowhere on that little wire
I’d like to plant my feet on solid ground
But God have mercy it’s a long way down
So I climb that ladder right on up to the sky
I don’t look down and I don’t ask why
And just for a moment I’m on top of the world
Just for a moment I’m a circus girl

© 1993 Sony/ATV Tunes & Purple Crayon Music (ASCAP)

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by Gretchen Peters

you fell out of the sky when you were 21
your bomber took a bullet from a german gun
did you think about your wife
your brief and tender life
did you pray to anyone?

how does it feel when you’re falling
can you hear sweet angels calling
is it empty up in space
did you touch god’s holy face
did you tremble, did you cry
did you fall or did you fly

you fell out of your life when you were 43
you saw her and you thought she was your destiny
you wandered from the path
and we cursed your aftermath
but that’s ancient history


you make it so damn hard to love you
i don’t know why i even try
and all i ever wanted of you
to take me with you when you fly

you fell out of my life one last time today
i held your hand and watched you as you slipped away
you cast your pilot’s eye to the endless open sky
and i sent you on your way

© 2002 2002 Sony/ATV Tunes & Purple Crayon 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

Couple of guys sittin’ around drinkin’ down at the Starlight Bar
One of ’em says, you know I been thinkin’—
Other one says that won’t get you too far
He says this is your life and welcome to it—
It’s just workin’ and drinkin’ and dreams
Ad on the TV says “Just do it”—
Hell if I know what that means…

The secret of life is a good cup of coffee
The secret of life is keep your eye on the ball
The secret of life is a beautiful woman
And Marilyn stares down from the barroom wall…

You and me, we’re just a couple of zeroes—
Just a couple of down-and-outs
But movie stars and football heroes—
What’ve they got to be unhappy about?
So they turn to the bartender, “Sam what do you think—
What’s the key that unlocks that door?”
Sam don’t say nothin’, he just wipes down the bar
And he pours ’em a couple more

Cause the secret of life is in Sam’s martinis
The secret of life is in Marilyn’s eyes
The secret of life is in Monday night football
And Rolling Stones records and Mom’s apple pies

Sam looks up from his Sunday paper—
He says boys you’re on the wrong track
The secret of life is there ain’t no secret
And you don’t get your money back

The secret of life is gettin’ up early
The secret of life is stayin’ up late
The secret of life is try not to hurry
But don’t wait, don’t wait…

The secret of life is a good cup of coffee
The secret of life is keep your eye on the ball
The secret of life is to find the right woman
The secret of life is nothin’ at all

Repeat first verse

© 1994 Sony/ATV Tunes & Purple Crayon Music (ASCAP)

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by Gretchen Peters

when the fireflies start their dancin’ on the lawn
and supper’s on the stove and mama’s laughin’
and everybody’s working day is done

if heaven was a town it would be my town
on a summer day in 1965
and everything i wanted was out there waiting
and everyone i loved was still alive

chorus: don’t cry a tear for me now baby
comes a time we all must say good bye
and if that’s what heaven’s made of
you know i ain’t afraid to die

if heaven was a pie it would be cherry
cool and sweet and heavy on your tongue
and just one bite would satisfy your hunger
and there’d always be enough for everyone

if heaven was a train it’d be a fast one
to take this weary traveler round the bend
and if heaven was a tear it’d be my last one
and you’d be in my arms again


© 2002 Sony/ATV Tunes & Purple Crayon Music (ASCAP)

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by Gretchen Peters

On a bus to St. Cloud, Minnesota I thought I saw you there
With the snow falling down around you Like a silent prayer
And once on a street in New York City
With the jazz and the sin in the air
And once on a cold L.A. freeway
Going nowhere

And it’s strange, but it’s true
I was sure it was you
Just a face in the crowd
On a bus to St. Cloud

In a church in downtown New Orleans
I got down on my knees and prayed
And I wept in the arms of Jesus
For the choice you made
We were just gettin’ to the good part
Just gettin’ past the mystery
Oh, and it’s just like you, just like you
To disagree

And it’s strange, but it’s true
You just slipped out of view
Like a face in the crowd
On a bus to St. Cloud

And you chase me like a shadow
And you haunt me like a ghost
And I hate you some, and I love you some
But I miss you most…

On a bus to St. Cloud, Minnesota
I thought I saw you there
With the snow falling down around you
Like a silent prayer

© 1994 Sony/ATV Tunes & Purple Crayon Music (ASCAP)

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by Gretchen Peters and Bryan Adams

Baby I’ve been thinking about me and you
Baby I’ve been dreaming like we used to do
Things ain’t what they used to be
I can’t change them anyway
But the world would be a better place
If I had my way

Superman would win the fight
Everyone would do what’s right
And I would always be your girl
In a perfect world

Maybe we were crazy
Breaking all the rules
Maybe we were dreamers
Maybe we were fools
Maybe it was madness
To believe that we could win
But boy I would give anything
Just to feel that way again


Maybe this is all there is
Maybe we just pack it in
Spread our wings and fly
But baby that don’t make it right
That don’t get me through the night
I still believe in a perfect world


© 1998 Sony/ATV Tunes/Purple Crayon Music & Badams Music Ltd. (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

Picasso’s in the kitchen stirring up a stew
He pours himself a bowl and then he fixes me one too
And we sit out on the terrace
And the birds fly through the trees
And he captures them on canvas
And I capture them in dreams
And we pass a lazy afternoon, as happy as can be
With the brushes and the turpentine, just Picasso and me

He picked me up in Paris; I was scrounging in the streets
He shared his cream for coffee, and I curled up at his feet
And ever since that moment I’ve been his confidante
He says that it’s uncanny how I know just what he wants
But we both like our freedom, and quiet company
In the end we’re not so different, Picasso and me

Sometimes he gets angry when they say he’s just a fraud
And he curses at the canvas, and he shakes his fist at god
Who are these rogues – who are these fools
Who made this game – who made these rules

The critics criticize him and the women come and go
They’ll never understand him; they don’t know what I know
They’re just too damned demanding, they just won’t let him be
And i’m glad to see them go, and then it’s back to him and me
And the lazy summer afternoons, the sunlight through the trees
And the brushes and the turpentine and Picasso and me

© 1997 Sony/ATV Tunes & Purple Crayon Music (ASCAP)

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by Gretchen Peters

When you are old and tired and gray
And wear your overcoat on sunny days
When your brave tales have all been told
I’ll ask for them when you are old

When you are old and full of sleep
And death no longer makes you weep
When your body aches with cold
I’ll warm your heart when you are old

And you’ll still be the same to me
A comfort and a mystery
And I will be old too, you see
I’ll need someone to comfort me

When you are old and pale and gaunt
And a gentle hand is all you want
I will give you mine to hold
I’ll be here when you are old

© 1991 Sony/ATV Tunes & Purple Crayon Music (ASCAP)

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by Gretchen Peters

Well she seemed all right by dawn’s early light
Though she looked a little worried and weak
She tried to pretend he wasn’t drinkin’ again
But Daddy’d left the proof on her cheek
And I was only eight years old that summer
And I always seemed to be in the way
So I took myself down to the fair in town
On Independence Day

Well word gets around in a small, small town
They said he was a dangerous man
Mama was proud and she stood her ground
But she knew she was on the losin’ end
Some folks whispered and some just talked
But everybody looked the other way
And when time ran out there was no one about
On Independence Day

Let freedom ring, let the white dove sing
Let the whole world know that today is a day of reckoning
Let the weak be strong, let the right be wrong
Roll the stone away, let the guilty pay
It’s Independence Day

Well she lit up the sky that fourth of July
By the time that the firemen come
They just put out the flames, took down some names
And sent me to the county home
Oh, and I ain’t sayin’ it’s right or it’s wrong
But maybe it’s the only way
Talk about your revolution
It’s Independence Day

© 1993 Sony/ATV Tunes & Purple Crayon Music (ASCAP)

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by Gretchen Peters

baby you just slipped right through my fingers
baby took the words out of my mouth
i could start all over but the thing is
you were never something i could live without

you were always looking for the silver lining
i was always waiting for the rain
every now and then i need reminding
love is never really love in vain

this night will end
this heart will mend
and i’ll smile again
tomorrow morning
as right as rain
as pure and plain
i will rise again
tomorrow morning

if i have a soul i’ve never seen it
if i have a prayer why can’t i pray
i say that i’m alright but i don’t mean it
what i really mean is i’m okay


i dreamed i was a sailor on the ocean
i dreamed that i was lost inside a storm
maybe i can find a fair wind blowin
somewhere in the dark before the dawn

© 2002 Sony/ATV Tunes & Purple Crayon Music (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 & Green Daniel

Don’t you know
I’d get down on my knees for you
If you’d only ask me to
I love you so
Don’t you know

Can’t you see
That you and I were meant to be
Darling take a look at me
Doesn’t it show
Don’t you know

Can it be
That you don’t care a thing for me
That I’m the one who doesn’t see
Darling don’t play tricks on me

Can’t you tell
I’ve fallen underneath your spell
And here I thought you knew me well
How could you go
Don’t you know

I love you so
Don’t you know

© 1992 Sony/ATV Tunes/Purple Crayon Music & No Chapeau Music (ASCAP)

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by Gretchen Peters

She’s a fallen angel
She’s just flesh and bone
She’s the rock of ages
She’s a rolling stone

(She’s nobody’s girl)
She walks this road alone
(Nobody’s girl)
She calls her soul her own
(Nobody’s girl)
She knows she’s on her own in this world
She’s nobody’s girl

She’s some kind of devil
She’s some kind of saint
And if her hands are dirty
Well her spirit ain’t

Now if the world don’t claim you
It don’t own you, too
She don’t belong to me, no, no
She don’t belong to you

© 1994 Sony/ATV Tunes & Purple Crayon Music (ASCAP)

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1. Circus Girl – This was the obvious choice for the title song, as it’s grown more autobiographical and closer to my heart as the years have gone by. I loved this character when I wrote her; eventually I became her.

2. The Aviator’s Song – When I wrote this song about my father it was so specifically about him I wasn’t sure if people would be able to relate. How wrong I was. It quickly became one of our most requested live songs, and on the best nights a moment of suspended disbelief, a high-wire act. I was determined to capture the whole person – the heroism, the fallibility – the humanity.

3. Sunday Morning (Up And Down My Street) – I think of this song as a beam of sunlight with just a tinge of darkness (“when we won’t be sad no more”…) – it’s a portrait of happiness and contentment with my little corner of the world.

4. The Secret Of Life – When I wrote this song in the mid-90s I really felt I had come up with something different. Musically it was not your standard 1/4/5 fare (although it reverts back to a pretty common progression in the chorus), and certainly it was not your typical country music lyric, either. After it was released as the title song of my first album, Faith Hill came along and recorded the hit version. I was surprised, to say the least.

5. If Heaven – I had the verses for this song forever, but no chorus. I kept trying to make something big out of it. The song was having none of it. Finally I accepted it for what it is – a folk song – and wrote a simple chorus that Woody Guthrie might have written.

6. On A Bus To St. Cloud – I could never have predicted the trajectory this song would take. Trisha Yearwood’s beautiful version was an unsuccessful country single, Jimmy LaFave’s transcendent version became one of his most requested songs, and my own version became my most-played song on BBC’s Radio 2 thanks to people like Terry Wogan and Bob Harris. It was never really a hit, but is the most requested song we do live, by a long shot.

7. In A Perfect World – I wrote this with Bryan Adams, while we were writing songs for an album of his. Somehow he kept throwing this one back to me, and eventually ended up singing on my version as well. It was really fun to produce; we used everything from mandolin to sitar on it.

8. This Town – Another song from Burnt Toast & Offerings, this version was inspired by a live performance we did at Celtic Connections in Glasgow, Scotland in 2006. Doug Lancio and I were both there, and months later when we got down to recording this, we couldn’t get the Celtic lilt out of our heads…

9. Picasso And Me -A portrait of Picasso as seen by his cat. At the time I wrote this I was feeling so constrained by all the “rules” of mainstream commercial music. I wanted to scream sometimes, and I certainly wanted to break them all. I channeled all of this into the Picasso character, and the cat, of course, is the omniscient Greek chorus.

10. When You Are Old – An old song from my first album, and also my first radio single. It did much better in the UK than it did in my own country – and the Irish took to it as their own, which is right and proper since the title was lifted from a Yeats poem. It’s been played at both weddings and funerals and I take that as a very big compliment.

11. Independence Day – I don’t know what more can be said about this song. It’s been understood, misunderstood, interpreted, misinterpreted and controversial from day one. I couldn’t have predicted any of that. In the beginning I was just telling a story about one woman, one man and one child. I went through a phase of not wanting to perform it any more, because I felt that no one could hear it as anything but a “hit”. Now I sing it as a story again.

12. Tomorrow Morning – Off of the album Halcyon. I always loved singing this song, but it fell off the set list for awhile. I revived it on the last Wine, Women & Song tour, and found it to be as sturdy as ever. I am someone who romances melancholy but marries optimism – and this song probably describes that as well as any.

13. The Way You Move Me – How difficult it is to write an open, unrepentant love song. This is my favorite of the few that I’ve written. It helps immensely to be openly, unrepentantly in love.

14. Don’t You Know (bonus track) – A nod to Tin Pan Alley, torch songs and a whole songwriting era that has come and gone but probably influenced me more than I realize. Growing up I heard Ella Fitzgerald singing the Cole Porter songbook, Django Rheinhardt playing gypsy jazz and Gene Krupa pounding the jungle drums, and it got under my skin.

15. Nobody’s Girl (bonus track) – Originally written for a friend’s independent film, this song eventually became a hit for Michelle Wright. I always loved the demo, which you hear here, but never found the right album for it.

Bonus Disc Of Rarities

(only available on the Deluxe Version)

1. First radio interview, KBCO Boulder (1977) – I was 19 years old and had never been on the radio before. I had been writing songs for about a year, and submitted a homemade cassette to the local radio station, where it caught the ear of local music critic Kenny Weissberg, who is doing the interview. Kenny became a mentor and a good friend. I sound so young and unformed here, but I obviously knew what I wanted to do.

2. Black Eyed Susan home cassette (1978) – A homemade tape of a song from the same era, recorded in a friend’s basement in Boulder. I had originally written the song for a man to sing but later turned the lyrics around to suit myself. I was partial to sad songs from the very beginning.

3. Out To Sea – demo (1989) – This song was written for a friend back in Colorado who died suddenly right after I had moved to Nashville. After I wrote it I knew I had really written something for myself, as opposed to something that would be “radio friendly”. Although the song was never covered, it was a personal milestone for me. It was recorded down in the basement of a little house on Music Row, the home of my first publishing company.

4. Ships – demo (1992) – When I wrote this song I had never been to Las Vegas but used it as the backdrop for this story song about two middle aged lovers. I’ve always been drawn to underdogs, and Eddie and Lily were two people you would never notice in a crowded room. But they noticed each other and found a second chance at love. Patty Loveless recorded this song a few years after the demo was recorded.

5. Circus Girl – work tape (1993) – Before I go into the studio to record a demo I usually record some sort of work tape just to get the basic song down. Once I’m in the studio I’ll play the work tape for the musicians and they will take what I’ve done and work their own magic into it. I knew this song would be important to me from the very beginning. It felt like my manifesto. I wrote a lot of songs about women who don’t follow a traditional path, but this one is closest to my heart.

6. You Don’t Even Know Who I Am – demo (1993) – This is the original demo for this song, the same version Patty Loveless heard when she decided to record it. I can’t say I knew it was a hit when I wrote it, but the chorus did give me goose bumps. I wrote the entire song in an afternoon, something that hasn’t happened before or since. It just poured out. Patty has said that the thing that made her record it was the second verse – where the point of view switches and the husband has his say. I was proud of the fact that I managed to tell both sides of the story.

7. Let That Pony Run – acoustic “cassingle” version (1996) – This song had already been a hit by Pam Tillis when I recorded this version. My record company was putting out a cassette single (remember those?), and wanted a bonus track to put on it. We came up with the idea of recording this song with just piano and guitar. That’s Barry Walsh and me joking around in the studio before the song starts.

8. If I Could Just Get Over You – live from the Bluebird (1996) – The Bluebird Cafe is a mecca for songwriters from all over the world. The first time I played there was 1986, before I had even moved to Nashville permanently. I was terrified. Now it feels like my own living room. I have heard some of the best songwriters in the world there, and tried out some of my fledgling songs there, like this one.

9. Die Young – live from Green’s Grocery (1996) – Another story song which almost made it on to an album but never quite did. Jesse was a pure figment of my imagination, although he was probably made up from bits and pieces of people I knew. This was recorded at a great venue out in the countryside south of Nashville. I had been traveling hard for six months, promoting my first record, and I wanted to sing some new songs after singing the ones on my record endlessly.

10. Closing Time – live from King Tut’s (1997) – Recorded live at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow, Scotland, this song was my second encore of the night before a roomful of extremely enthusiastic Scots. It was my second visit to the UK, and my first real tour there. I was absolutely stunned by their reaction, and immediately made plans to return. I will always have deep gratitude to the audiences in the UK who embraced me with open arms back at the start of my recording career, and who have been with me ever since.

11. Beloved Enemy – live from Caffe Milano (1998) – This was written with my dear friend Conni Ellisor, a brilliant composer and violinist. We were given the task of writing a classical piece for voice and orchestra to be part of a song cycle on the general theme of family. We hit on the idea of two sisters who watch their parents marriage unraveling before their eyes. The idea of writing something in the classical realm scared me to death, but I had Conni, who was endlessly encouraging and helped to demystify the process for me. Then they asked me to sing it!

12. Tattoo – demo (2001) – A demo of another song that never quite made it on to an album. Sometimes in the process of making an album you have to cross certain songs off the list because they just don’t feel right with the other songs. It’s much the same with songwriting, where you sometimes have to do away with lines that you love but which don’t contribute to the whole.

13. Breakfast At Our House – work tape (2005) – This “first draft” version opens with different lyrics. I could never get those first few lines to “sing right”, and ultimately felt I strengthened the song by using the line “this is how it is” to open both verses instead of just the second verse. I recorded this in Florida where I was holed up writing songs for Burnt Toast & Offerings. When I wrote that phrase I knew I had my album title.

14. Jezebel – work tape (2006) – Another work tape with first draft lyrics. I didn’t have the last verse completely finished, but I knew I had a song. I was sure I’d be able to finish that verse before the album was scheduled to be recorded, so I recorded this version with lyrics that I knew wouldn’t make the final cut. Recorded in Florida during a writing session for Burnt Toast & Offerings.

15. Jesus On My Dashboard – work tape (2007) – Oftentimes when writing for an album there are byproducts – songs that present themselves, needing to be written then and there. Over the years I’ve found that the best thing for me to do is write them, even when I know they won’t be part of the album. Sometimes they become part of something else, and at the very least they make room for the next song. Most of this was written while I was driving through Alabama. It came to me so quickly I pulled the car over several times to write lyrics down. I always heard a male singer doing it, and thus it was heavily influenced by my favorite country singers like Mickey Newbury, Vern Gosdin and Merle Haggard.

16. Mother (for Mother Jones) – master (2008) – A song written for a tribute album, as yet unreleased, to Mother Jones, activist, community organizer, rabble-rouser and godmother to untold millions of miners and other workers in the late 19th/early 20th century. Mother, as she was known to all, devoted her life to “her boys”. Her own story was tragic – she lost all four of her children and her husband to yellow fever, and shortly afterwards her house burned to the ground. When you have nothing, you have everything. She went on to change the face of the labor movement in the US. She is buried in Mt. Olive, Illinois, so if you’re ever in the neighborhood, stop by and leave a flower on her grave.

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Circus Girl: The Best Of Gretchen Peters
(Scarlet Letter Records)

by AC

4 stars: Impeccable songcraft from a vastly underrated vocalist

At times it seems impossible that it was only thirteen years ago that Gretchen Peters released her debut album, and at other times I feel like I’ve been listening to her music for much, much longer. In reality. I have, as her songs recorded by the likes of George Strait. Martina McBride, Pam Tillis, Suzy Bogguss, Trisha Yearwood and Patty Loveless pre-date her recording debut by several years. This collection is aptly titled; as she’s not had any ‘hits’ in terms of chart success, it is a self-compiled compilation of her best-known recordings from somewhat limited radio plays, but more importantly from live concerts. Unlike most Nashville-based songwriters who’ve made their money writing hits for the well-known stars, Gretchen has gone out there on the road to play her songs to an ever-increasing fan base.

Borrowing from such musical trailblazers as Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Sheryl Crow, Gretchen combines catchy songcraft and sonic adventurism with an endearing effortlessness. With a voice like polished copper in the firelight, Gretchen adds that special songwriter touch that burns like an arrow straight to my heart and soul.

Thirteen of these tracks are gathered from Gretchen’s past albums, with two bonus tracks – Don’t You Know and Nobody’s Girl – previously unreleased. Five of the songs come from The Secret Of Life, her 1996 album debut. It’s impossible for me to pick the best of them, because each one of them is an integral part of Gretchen’s musical career. Let’s just say that songs like On A Bus To St Cloud, The Secret of Life and Independence Day should be up there with the likes of Yesterday, You’ve Got A Friend and If You Could Read My Mind as genuine timeless pop classics. Other incredible songs include the heart-stirring Picasso And Me, which tells about the relationship between the famed painter and his cat, Sunday Morning, a gorgeous ballad that encapsulates everyday life so perfectly and In A Perfect World is a rhythmic gem about wanting more from life, but in the end settling for exactly what you have. Gretchen Peters is a singer-songwriter who gets to the very heart of life and relationships. Embrace, enjoy and eulogise.

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by Alison Stokes

Gretchen Peters is one class act. As a songwriter she’s up there with the female greats like Carole King and Dolly Parton, sharing that ability to take personal experiences and feelings and make them universal.

Even if you’re not familiar with Gretchen Peters the artist, you’ll know her music if you’ve listened to any country music radio station over the last 15 years playing George Strait, Faith Hill or Shania Twain.

Circus Girl is the perfect introduction to her extensive catalogue of hits. It’s a mix of heartfelt anthems like Independence Day, the Martina McBride CMA Song of the Year 1994, the mysterious On A Bus To St. Cloud (a massive hit for Trisha Yearwood) and the infectious In A Perfect World which features the voice of her sometime writing partner, Canadian rocker Bryan Adams.

Collected from her four studio albums The Secret Of Life, Gretchen Peters, Halcyon and Burnt Toast & Offerings, with two new numbers, there’s not a bad track on this album. The songs reflect Peters’ life through child-rearing, divorce, falling in love and losing a parent, but they also relate to anyone who’s had their heart broken, and subsequently, mended.

Through her lyrics she demonstrates her great power of observation, whether seen through the eyes of Picasso’s stray cat in Picasso And Me, or the high-wire artist of the title track, Circus Girl. While she displays her barbed wit on This Town – “This town is a lot like me/Sadder and wiser than it used to be/A little sprawled out, a little run down/I wonder what’s gonna become of this town.”

As a performer her charm is the rawness of her delivery. The simple acoustic guitar and piano accompaniment on the majority of tracks allows her crystal-clear voice to shine. Like Emmylou without the vibrato or Maria McKee without the whisky hoarseness, her voice gives the songs a vulnerability and authenticity.

She’s at her purest when singing from the heart, as on the I Will Survive-type anthem Tomorrow Morning, the feel good Sunday Morning or When You Are Old, a poignant celebration of ageing love which ranks up there with John Prine’s Hello In There.

Her biggest hit, Independence Day, is hardly recognisable from Martina McBride’s power ballad in its rawness. Over 15 years old, the power of its anti-domestic violence message is as strong as ever. When Republican Sarah Palin used it in her election campaign, Peters donated the royalties to the Planned Parenthood pro-choice campaign in Palin’s name. Martina may have made it famous, Gretchen does it justice.

Of the two new tracks Don’t You Know is a slice of late-night lounge jazz while Nobody’s Girl would sit comfortably on any McBride album.

Peters says great songs are born out of pain, anger, joy and wit. This is the work of a woman who knows how to laugh and cry and can move listeners in the same way.

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