Blackbirds

Artist
Gretchen Peters
Released
2015
Genre
Singer-Songwriter

Listen to Blackbirds in its entirety.

  1. Blackbirds -:-- / -:--
  2. Pretty Things -:-- / -:--
  3. When All You Got Is A Hammer -:-- / -:--
  4. Everything Falls Away -:-- / -:--
  5. The House On Auburn Street -:-- / -:--
  6. When You Comin’ Home -:-- / -:--
  7. Jubilee -:-- / -:--
  8. Black Ribbons -:-- / -:--
  9. Nashville -:-- / -:--
  10. The Cure For The Pain -:-- / -:--
  11. Blackbirds (reprise) -:-- / -:--

LYRICS

Blackbirds

Gretchen Peters/Ben Glover

The blackbirds came at dusk and they roosted in the cane
raised such a ruckus that it shook my windowpane
And I’m covered up in dirt and I stink of kerosene
and no matter what I do I can’t get clean

last thing i remember was your footsteps in the hall
whisky in your voice and a shotgun on the wall
now there’s shadows in the shadows, there’s trouble in the cane
and there’s things you do that you just can’t explain

Uneasy lies the head – unfaithful is the heart
ungrateful and unlucky and untrue
And no one saw me coming, and no one saw me go
Only the blackbirds and you

come harvest in the cane fields the sky turns black with smoke
so I took our father’s gun and a heavy piece of rope
and I left you lying there like rotten fruit upon the ground
and I lit a torch and I burned the whole thing down

Uneasy lies the head – unfaithful is the heart
ungrateful and unlucky and untrue
And no one saw me coming, and no one saw me go
Only the blackbirds and you

our father was a farmer he planted fields of cane
he planted seeds of evil and we harvested the shame
Oh but I’m the last one standing there’s no one left to tell
and when it’s my time I’ll see you both in hell

Circus Girl Music/administered by Carnival Music (ASCAP) and Carpe Vita Creative (PRS)

Pretty Things

by Gretchen Peters & Ben Glover

I knew a girl who said that beauty kills
dulled the pain with wine and pills
took that slow ride down the hill to nowhere
she said Pompeii crumbled and Athens fell
heathens stormed the citadel
a girl like me ain’t got a chance in hell against ’em

oh pretty things, pretty things gone to ruin

rained three days, when we awoke
sun came out and the levee broke
like some cruel and cosmic joke God’s playing
now I don’t pretend that I believe
I know there ain’t no guarantees
still morning finds me on my knees and praying

oh pretty things, pretty things gone to ruin

come the flood you build an ark
come the night you curse the dark
inside your broken heart you bear the crosses
some of us have got it made
some of us have more than paid
but we’re all marching in this slow parade of losses

oh pretty things, pretty things gone to ruin

© 2014 Circus Girl Music, administered by Carnival Music (ASCAP) and Carpe Vita Creative (PRS)

When All You Got Is A Hammer

by Gretchen Peters

there’s a bible on the table
there’s a bottle on the shelf
there’s a woman in the kitchen
cryin’ quietly to herself
down the hallway, in the bedroom
he can hear his children wail
when all you got is a hammer
everything looks like a nail

well he came home from the desert
with a medal on his chest
like a hero, like a champion
but he felt more like a guest
now he sleeps with one eye open
and he wakes up scared as hell
and all he’s got is a hammer
and everything looks like a nail

well they show you how to shoot and they show you how to kill
but they don’t show you what to do with this hole that you can’t fill
so you dwell in the darkness of your soul like Jonah in the belly of the whale
and all you got is a hammer and everything looks like a nail

when a good man in a bad dream
can’t make it on his own
when he can’t feed his own damn children
on the money that he brings home
and the deck is stacked against him
and he knows he’s bound to fail
and all he’s got is a hammer
everything looks like a nail

chorus

© 2014 Circus Girl Music, administered by Carnival Music (ASCAP)

Everything Falls Away

by Gretchen Peters

wasn’t a cloud in the sky when the news arrived
just another bluebird day
just a voice on the phone saying I’m sorry
everything falls away

so i went down to the sea to look for you
found the moon and the Milky Way
watched the tide take back what it gave to me
everything falls away

i live in the fear that my heart will break
i look for the thing that’ll cure the ache
just one thing that the world can’t take away
i want to dive beneath the undertow
down to the bones of the earth below
i want to know, i want to know – where did you go

I saw you so clear in a dream last night
diving from the cliffs at Echo Bay
the arc and the pause and the slow descent
everything falls away

© 2014 Circus Girl Music, administered by Carnival Music (ASCAP)

The House On Auburn Street

by Gretchen Peters

the house on Auburn Street is burning to the ground
fire trucks on the lawn and a crowd is gathered round
an apparition in a small suburban town
the house on Auburn Street is burning to the ground

birthdays and barbecues – come on you sleepy head
he watched the evening news while she put us both to bed
drowsing in our room, and drifting in the dark
in the house on Auburn Street waiting for our lives to start

you were the older one and I never saw you cry
always the bolder one; nothing that you wouldn’t try
I found you on the roof shooting sparks into your veins
and staring vacantly across the green suburban plains

there were rescue missions, ultimatums and promises of love
they did the best they could, oh but it was never quite enough

the sparks are flying now like fireworks in July
the dogs are barking now and the kids are hypnotized
and I should be crying now, but I’m laughing at the joke
cause the house on Auburn Street is going up in smoke
the house on Auburn Street is going up in smoke

© 2013 Circus Girl Music, administered by Carnival Music (ASCAP)

When You Comin’ Home

by Gretchen Peters & Ben Glover

some old ships they sail, some old ships they sink
cause you got a bottle, don’t mean you have to drink
when you comin’ home baby, when you comin’ back to your girl

I been on the east side waiting for your call
I’ve been workin’ corners, when I work at all
when you comin’ home baby, when you comin’ back to your girl

cause these walls are closin in
and your old coat is way too thin

Billy on the Corner, he’s still taking bets
but I don’t like to gamble on things that I can’t get
when you comin’ home baby, when you comin’ back to your girl

now the winter’s closin’ in
and your old coat is way too thin

banging on the ceiling, banging on the floor
waterpipes are freezin’ and my key don’t fit the door
when you comin’ home baby, when you comin’ back to your girl

© 2014 Circus Girl Music, administered by Carnival Music (ASCAP) and Carpe Vita Creative (PRS)

Jubilee

by Gretchen Peters

I got nothing to hold me here
my old friends have all moved on and disappeared
it won’t be long now ’til I fly
but oh my dear ones how I hate to say goodbye

so I sing holy holy from this prison where i lie
my arms reaching up to touch the sky
I sing holy holy, hallelujah I am free
come on down and join the jubilee

I don’t hunger and I don’t thirst
there is nothing that I need upon this earth
my body’s broken but not my soul
you know it’s love and only love that’s made me whole

chorus

I’m an orphan thirty years on
how I miss my father’s voice and my mother’s arms
I was you once, and now you’re me
it’s in this circle that we make a family

chorus

© 2014 Circus Girl Music, administered by Carnival Music (ASCAP)

Black Ribbons

Written by Gretchen Peters, Matraca Berg & Suzy Bogguss

I built this house with my bare hands
on the shores of Louisian
took my sweet cher Jolie-Ann
for my own – my very own

now every man has got his pride
I tried to shelter and provide
But I can’t stop this poison tide
rollin’ in – rollin’ in

Now I’ve nothing left to give her
No answer to her prayers
Black ribbons on the water
Black ribbons for her hair

came the wind, came the rain
we defied that hurricane
and we built this house again
stone by stone – stone by stone

But in the Gulf of Mexico
5000 feet below
oh the devil’s blood it flows
on and on – on and on

Now I’ve nothing left to give her
No answer to her prayers
Black ribbons on the water
Black ribbons for her hair

oh how her eyes they used to shine
fairest in Evangeline
Now they stare so cold and blind
through my soul – oh Lord my soul

she was tangled in the saltgrass
not a bullet left to spare
Black ribbons on the water
Black ribbons for her hair

© 2010 Circus Girl Music

Nashville

by David Mead

on a childhood highway through a night alone
I was barely breathing, I was crawling home
well it’s not quite London or the south of France
or an Asian island or a second chance

going back to Nashville, thinking ‘bout the whole thing
guess you gotta run sometimes
maybe I’m a fast train rolling down a mountain
watching all my life go by

you’re a distant memory, you’re an exit sign
I was talking crazy on the driver’s side
and I know I hurt you but I can’t confess
was that blood or a wine stain on your wedding dress

going back to Nashville, thinking about the whole thing
guess you gotta run sometimes
maybe I’m a fast train rolling down a mountain
watching all my life go by

going back to Nashville, laughing at a bad break
what’s the use in wondering why?
baby, I’m a storm front blowing through the valley
tearing up a good July

and it’s safe and warm where nothing ever happens
would it be so hard to realign a star or two?
change a southern night for you

well it’s not quite evening and it’s not New York
there’s a scar in the blue sky by the old airport
and I’m talking crazy on the driver’s side
I will always love you like a long goodbye

©2004 Bug Music o/b/o Da Wei Phonetic, Bug Music o/b/o Swing Thoughts

The Cure For The Pain

by Gretchen Peters

damn this lump in my throat
damn this hole in my coat
damn this rain that just won’t quit
damn the sorry waste of it

damn the truth, and damn these lies
damn that look behind your eyes
damn this day, damn this night
goddamn this losing fight

there ain’t no boat, there ain’t no train
to take us back the way we came
ain’t no shelter from this hard rain
the cure for the pain is the pain
the cure for the pain is the pain

it’s not like you think it’s gonna be
not like the movies that you see
ain’t no soaring violins
just machines and medicines

so bless these pills, bless these sheets
bless this food that you can’t eat
bless the damned who walk these halls
and god have mercy on us all

there ain’t no drug, there ain’t no cure
to make it like it was before
ain’t no shelter from this hard rain
the cure for the pain is the pain
the cure for the pain is the pain

© 2014 Circus Girl Music, administered by Carnival Music (ASCAP)

NOTES

1. Blackbirds
“I’m covered up in dirt and I stink of kerosene, and no matter what I do I can’t get clean…”
The first song Ben Glover and I wrote together. I was intent on writing a murder ballad. We just had the first verse, initially. Writing it was like solving a crime; I paced the room, Ben drank coffee, we combed through the “evidence”, i.e. the clues left by that verse and successive ones. By the end of the song we had a clear picture in our minds of who did what to whom, but it’s really more about what’s going on inside her head, the aftermath of generations of pain.

2. Pretty Things
“Pompeii crumbled and Athens fell; heathens stormed the citadel – a girl like me ain’t got a chance in hell…”
Another song written with Ben Glover. Beauty is the coin of the realm. It’s a hand grenade with the pin pulled. We want it, worship it, knowing it will break us. This life is our undoing. All these pretty things, gone to ruin. The work tape was just acoustic guitar and vocal; the track blossomed into something else in the studio, with the help of Doug and Barry and a remarkable band.

3. When All You Got Is A Hammer
“they show you how to shoot and they show you how to kill, but they don’t show you what to do with this hole that you can’t fill…”
How do we reconcile sending men and women into hell, and giving them no tools to help them cope when they get back? We can’t imagine what they’ve seen. We can’t imagine what they’ve done. Then we want them to come home and act as though nothing has changed. Many thanks to Jason Isbell for making the time in an impossibly busy schedule to come in and sing the harmony on this track.

4. Everything Falls Away
…”the arc and the pause, and the slow descent…”
Born alone at the piano with a sort of chord modulation in the chorus that feels slightly unsettling; I could never have written this on the guitar; something about the piano and all the unknown (to me) territory in its keys. Something about the “cliffs at Echo Bay”, definitely a song placed in California, certainly a lament for the mystery of death. Where did you go? Death and the sea swallow us whole.

5. The House On Auburn Street
“…staring vacantly across the green suburban plains…”
When I was a child growing up in Pelham, NY, there would every once in awhile be a house fire – an event that pierced the veneer of safety of our well-heeled suburb. I’m not sure if it’s a memory or a fantasy, but I have a mental image of sitting on my father’s shoulders watching a neighbor’s house burn. Suburbia in the 1960s was a well-manicured illusion. Peel back one layer and there was darkness everywhere. Parents drinking heavily, marriages coming apart in the turbulent wake of the sixties, drugged out teenagers, and the specter of the Vietnam War staring us all in the face. When the fire broke out it just seemed like the truth.

6. When You Comin’ Home
“cause you got a bottle, don’t mean you have to drink”
Ben Glover brought the melody into a writing session. It put me in mind of the first songs I learned to play on guitar; songs by Bob Dylan and Mississippi John Hurt and Woody Guthrie. It put me in mind of New York, early 1960s, a cold winter, busted water pipes, a threadbare coat, and a sad girl and boy. Jimmy LaFave, who is one of my favorite singers in the world, took it to another level with his beautifully wispy duet vocal.

7. Jubilee
“I sing holy holy, hallelujah I am free; come on down and join the jubilee”
I wrote Jubilee when most of the “Blackbirds” album was done. There’s always that one song, the one that’s waiting to be born at the last minute, the one that just makes it under the finish line. On “Hello Cruel World” it was “Little World”, and in a similar way “Jubilee” was born – alone at a piano, with the impulse to bring the song down to its simplest iteration. At the end of a life, an expression of joy, sadness, acceptance and an invitation to celebrate, rather than mourn.

8. Black Ribbons
“in the Gulf of Mexico some 5000 feet below; oh the devil’s blood it flows on and on”
The Deepwater Horizon disaster was the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. It was deadly, and it went on unchecked for 87 agonizing days. Lives were lost in the initial accident; other lives were lost in less immediate and visible ways. In the wake of a natural disaster, maybe we can pick up and rebuild, knowing, at least, that the world heals itself, and hopefully us with it. But this was nothing natural. Written with dear friends Matraca Berg and Suzy Bogguss following the oil spill of 2010. A wife destroyed by hopelessness, a husband destroyed by grief, and a hole at the bottom of the sea.

9. Nashville
“I know I hurt you but I can’t confess; was that blood or a wine stain on your wedding dress”
I have loved this song, and the stunningly beautiful recording of it made by its writer, David Mead, for ten years now. In many ways “Nashville” the song created connections that run deep through the last three studio albums I’ve made, from “Burnt Toast & Offerings” through “Hello Cruel World” to “Blackbirds”. Barry and I first saw David on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium, opening for Bruce Hornsby. Alongside him was another David (Henry) – a fantastic cello player, very animated and possessing a certain aggressiveness that you don’t find every day in string players. I fell in love with them both. I went on to write “Lady Of The House” with David Mead, who sang on it, too; I went on to make five records in which David Henry played a significant part. Always, I had “Nashville” in the back of my mind. I finally surrendered and recorded it. David gave his blessing, and can be heard singing that impossibly high harmony, as he does, gracefully and effortlessly.

10. The Cure For The Pain
“ain’t no shelter from this hard rain; the cure for the pain is the pain”
A koan, a meditation, a mantra. A deep, paradoxical truth. The only way out is through; the cure for the pain is the pain. Waiting around at a soundcheck one afternoon, the title came. I tucked it away. Then after a weekend in the hospital with a loved one, the rest of the song.

11. Blackbirds (reprise)
For a relatively new song, “Blackbirds” has already had several lives. Ben Glover and I recorded it as a duet on his fine album “Atlantic”, and sang it that way for several shows on an Irish tour in 2013. When it came time for me to record it, I couldn’t decide on the arrangement. I loved the angry bite of the faster version, and I loved the bleak landscape of the slower one. We tried it both ways, and we still couldn’t decide. Doug Lancio suggested we put both versions on the album as bookends, and so it is.

REVIEWS

9/10 stars
Wonderful study of aging by great country singer

Peters, one of Nashville’s greatest talents of the past two decades, returns after 2012’s majestic Hello Cruel World with her voice a little less steady but just as steely, and still equipped with the ability to stop clocks with a well-turned phrase. Death, aging and disease are the themes that drive Peters in this moving sequence, with devastating effect on “The Cure For The Pain” and the mournful but proud “Everything Falls Away”. This is a melancholic album, but a determined, thoughtful one, writing tough songs from a woman’s perspective and featuring contributions from Jason Isbell, Will Kimbrough and Jimmy LaFave.
-Uncut

4/5 stars
Tenth album from one of Nashville’s unsung greats.

If you’re waking in the night wondering where the years went, stay the hell away from Gretchen Peters’s Blackbirds. Within sight of her own seventh decade, Peters decided that it shouldn’t just be artists such as Springsteen, Dylan and Cohen who get to explore mortality, that, considering how their careers are so often built upon appearance as much as talent, maybe women have something to say, too. And in the hands of such a skilled songwriter those thoughts become powerful messages, from the opening murder-suicide of the title track to The Cure For The Pain’s desperate closing realisation that “The cure for the pain is the pain”. Ben Glover, Jason Isbell, Suzy Bogguss and others help out along the way, but this is all Peters’s show as she shines a light under some very dark rocks.
-Q Magazine

…and then there is “Cure For The Pain”.  If Ms. Peters hadn’t already been inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, this one would have had them ringing her phone. It’s about the craft, knowing how to put the pieces together so that they look like they’ve always been that way.  When we listen, we know these words have been together forever. Truth is what seals it, though. “It’s not like you think it’s gonna be, not like the movies that you see, ain’t no soaring violins, just machines and medicines.” Yes, we know it, we’ve been in that hospital room, or in that house where they’ve brought in a hospital bed. We’ve seen the readings on the machines as we held the hand and looked into those eyes. We know the feeling when we realize things aren’t going to get better. “Goddamn this losing fight…”
-No Depression