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by Gretchen Peters

i am an artist
i won’t crawl
i’ll paint a picture of my heart
and hang it on a wall
it’s my sweet release
it’s my masterpiece
hanging on a wall in a museum

you can hurt me
but i’ll fight back
i’ll rearrange the shadows and the light
til the colors turn to black
til my broken heart
is a work of art
hanging on a wall in a museum

and i’ll paint the golden summers
and i’ll paint the starry nights
and i’ll paint the bloody battles
and the refuse of the fight
like a message in a bottle
like a ghost beyond the grave
you’re looking for some meaning
but it’s my life i’m trying to save

i am a stranger
to myself
not living breathing flesh and blood
but dust upon a shelf
it’s my joy and my strife
it’s my lot in life
to be hanging on a wall in a museum

©2002 sony/atv tunes, purple crayon music

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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 LLC/Purple Crayon Music
All Rights ADM. By Sony/ATV Music Publishing (ASCAP)
All Rights Reserved Used by Permission

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by Gretchen Peters

Baby open up that bottle
Come and lay down by my side
I don’t have no special reason
Just this ache I feel inside
I wanna lose my inhibitions
I wanna lose those words we said
I wanna drink my fill of you babe
And let it go right to my head

Tonight I want to hold you
I wanna look into your eyes
I wanna watch these broken dreams turn into memories
Just like water, baby
Just like water into wine

Don’t wanna think about tomorrow
Don’t wanna count my last regrets
I can’t hate you anymore babe
And I can’t love you any less

Sometimes I’ve been ungrateful
Sometimes you’ve been unkind
But all the pain and sorrow and all the bitter tears
They’re just water, baby
Just water into wine

So baby open up that bottle
Come and lay down by my side
I can’t think of one good reason
We should not be satisfied

Jesus walked upon the water
Healed the sick, the lame, the blind
We are miracles of science, we are accidents divine
We’re just water, baby
Just water into wine

© 1997 sony/atv tunes LLC, purple crayon music

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by Gretchen Peters

I set out like Kerouac
In my American car
Carryin’ a dream and a road map
Deep in my American heart
But where’s them mountain majesties
Where’s those waves of grain
Billboards from sea to shining sea
Man, it ain’t the same

I’ve been searching for the promised land
But it’s just another neon come-on roadside stand
Little tin toys that fall apart
That’s all they got here
I come all this way to find my heart
All I get is souvenirs

They got Mount Rushmore on a cup
Everybody needs one of those
For a dollar more they’ll fill it up
You can drink out of Lincoln’s nose
They got the Hard Rock T-shirts
They got Elvis too
Sooner or later mark my words
They’re gonna get you


Baby I believed in you
I thought you believed in me
I thought we had a love that’s true
Not a close facsimile
Now I don’t want your dime store ring
Turns my finger green
I don’t want your dimestore love
I want the real thing


© 1991 sony/atv tunes LLC, purple crayon music

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by Gretchen Peters

Right through the middle of our town
A two lane, two way highway comes rollin’ down
It used to be quite busy around here
But then they put a mall out there
And the freeway came last year
Nobody stops here anymore, they’re only passing through
There’s nothing much to look at
And there’s nothing here to do
Just an old newspaper blowin’ at my feet
Down on main street

Old Mr. Arnold finally sold the store
He started out on main street back before the war
He says business wasn’t booming anyway
He says he and that old neighborhood
Have seen their better days
But he remembers how it was in 1945
When they marched out all the boys who made it home alive
And the girls were throwin’ roses at their feet
Down on main street

Down on main street they’re sellin memories real low
Goin’ out of business – everything must go

Like old forgotten faces without names
The storefronts and the sidewalks
And the boarded window frames
And there’s the corner record store
Where I discovered rock n’ roll so many hears before
And I listen for the sound
I listen for the rhythm in the heart of this old town
I listen for the slow and steady beat
Down on main street

© 1990 Goldline Music (WBM Corp.) (ASCAP)

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by Gretchen Peters

She left the car in the driveway
She left the key in the door
She left the kids at her mama’s
And the laundry piled up on the floor
She left her ring on the pillow
Right where it wouldn’t be missed
She left a note in the kitchen
Next to the grocery list

It said you don’t even know who I am
You left me a long time ago
You don’t even know who I am
So what do you care if I go

He left the ring on the pillow
He left the clothes on the floor
And he called her to say he was sorry
But he couldn’t remember what for
So he said, I’ve been doing some thinking
And I’ve been thinking that maybe you’re right
I go to work every morning
And I come home to you every night

And you don’t even know who I am
You left me a long time ago
You don’t even know who I am
So what do I care if you go

© 1993 Sony/ATV Music Publishing/Purple Crayon 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 LLC/Purple Crayon Music
All Rights ADM. By Sony/ATV Music Publishing
(ASCAP) All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

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by Gretchen Peters

I went walking one night on Tupelo Street
All the way to the county line
Heard a sidewalk sermon and a blind man preach
And written on a cardboard sign

Revival, revival
This lamb has gone astray
Revival, revival
Gonna wash your sins away

Now I have done everything that I know to do
But you left a hole that I just can’t fill
And If god can forgive me baby why can’t you
But I guess you never will


Baby you were my weakness and my saving grace
My salvation and my sin
And I would give anything just to see your face
Just to see your face again


© 1998 sony/atv tunes LLC, purple crayon music

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by Gretchen Peters

Under Kilimanjaro She guards her young
And she speaks to the darkness In the mother tongue
She waits and she watches All night long
She calls to her lover And she sings this song

I will be there for you whatever comes
I am as constant as the beat of drums
My love is stronger than the noonday sun over Africa
Over Africa

It’s a force of nature
It’s the power of need
Love will heal you, baby
And it’ll make you bleed
But I will be patient I will bide my time
I will be waiting Like a mama lion
I will be there for you whatever comes

I am as constant as the beat of drums
My love is stronger than the noonday sun over Africa
Over Africa

Between love and money, between pride and sin
We are just wild things underneath the skin
In the cradle of creation we were made this way
Bound together til our dying day
It’s the law of the jungle
It’s the ancient truth
Live by the senses, baby
Die by the tooth
But I would walk through fire
I would swim the sea
Long as I live and breathe
You belong to me

I will be there for you whatever comes
I am as constant as the beat of drums
My love is stronger than the noonday sun over Africa
Over Africa

©1995 Sony/ATV Tunes LLC/Purple Crayon Music
All Rights ADM. By Sony/ATV Music Publishing (ASCAP)
All Rights Reserved Used by Permission

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by Gretchen Peters

the altarboys are sneaking cigarettes
the friends and neighbors offering their regrets
the station wagons in the pouring rain
and all that water goin down the drain

a white lace dress for when i turn thirteen
and a bright red stain that wouldn’t quite come clean
walking by the football field
trying out my sex appeal
while all around the leaves are turning brown
this used to be my town

he waited by the swingset in the park
he tore at my new raincoat in the dark
and all that i could think about
was getting through and getting out
and how the night could fall without a sound
this used to be my town

i’m flying through the clouds as white as snow
i’m looking at the people down below
the whole world holds its breath for me
the priest evokes eternity
and everywhere the rain is pourin down
this used to be my town

© 2002 sony/atv tunes, purple crayon music

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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 LLC/Purple Crayon Music
All Rights ADM. By Sony/ATV Music Publishing (ASCAP)
All Rights Reserved. Used By Permission

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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 LLC/Purple Crayon Music
All Rights Administered by Sony/ATV Music Publishing (ASCAP).
All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

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1. Museum – After seeing Van Gogh’s paintings in Amsterdam, I read a couple of books about him. In a roundabout way that inspired me to write this song, which isn’t about any particular artist as much as it is about all artists.

2. Circus Girl – Of all the songs on the album, I think this one is my most favorite of all. I wrote it after I’d taken my daughter to the circus. I’d thought, ‘Wow! She’s really gonna get off on this.’ She thought it was okay, but I was the one who was totally entranced by the whole thing. I loved it! The tawdry glitz of show business and dirt. Obviously, it’s not about the circus at all. It’s a metaphor for my life and the entertainment business. It’s about what’s underneath the facade.

3. Like Water Into Wine – I love a lot of the imagery from the Bible—it’s also rich in metaphors, which is the stuff songs are made of. I wanted to write this as a love song on a larger scale; sort of looking at the loss of a love in relation to the bigger picture—who we are, why we’re here and how we ought to treat each other. These two people are in a lot of pain, trying to do the right thing, and trying to find some comfort at the same time.

4. Souvenirs – I have a love / hate relationship with tacky souvenirs. On the one hand, they reduce the most meaningful icons of our culture to cheap plastic. Still, I am drawn to them, especially the most ridiculous or irreverent ones. Sometimes I think the worst thing that could happen would be for whoever makes these things to suddenly acquire some taste. Souvenirs is the oldest song on the album, written in 1991. I’ve played it live for years, but just never got around to recording it. It’s half social commentary and half love song, but in either case it’s about the desire for authenticity, for something real.

5. Main Street – There was a real Mr. Arnold – he lived in Madisonville, Kentucky and had a store on Main Street there for years. When I wrote the song I decided I would take him a copy of it because he was in the second verse. He had retired then, and seemed a bit at loose ends, and I thought it would make his day. He listened all the way through, came over to me, put his arm around me and said, “how much money do you think we’re gonna make off of that song?”

6. You Don’t Even Know Who I Am – Unlike most of the songs I’ve written, this one was written in one sitting. It was a bone-chilling winter day, and I was sitting at home on the floor with my guitar, where a thin beam of sunlight was coming through the window. I sat there and wrote the whole thing. The chorus came like a gift. I think the thing I was proudest of was that it wasn’t one-sided; like most relationships that break down, there are two stories going on.

7. 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.

8. Revival – I wrote this in Seaside, Florida, where there really is a Tupelo Street. Although it’s obviously a sad love song, I think of it more like a prayer. After all the songs about disillusionment and treachery, I wanted this bit of hope to be the end of the album.

9. Over Africa – This is a very big song. The impetus was the idea of Africa. That seemed so rich! But it’s not really about Africa at all…Really, it’s that I don’t like to write love songs; they bore me. A great love song, to me, is about something bigger. So this song was intended to be something primal, from a deep cell depth love that a mother would have. That seemed to go along with the idea of Africa, the mother of all homes. This was a record from conception. It’s a real percussion-driven song, which I think I got from listening to Peter Gabriel, because I tend to be more word-driven. In fact, it’s the most fun work tape, because I took every percussion instrument in the house and taped it to every part of my body. Then I just shook everything I had to set the mood.

10. This Used To Be My Town – This started out being about my hometown in New York. All the images are from my memories there. Somewhere along the way, the girl in the song appeared. During the summer of Elizabeth Smart and a seemingly endless stream of young pubescent girls who disappeared into thin air, this girl appeared in this song, and this is her story.

11. American Tune – I’ve always loved this song by Paul Simon – I think I first sang it at a First Amendment Center concert in Nashville, and it just stayed in the set list after that. The imagery is beautiful, sad, and – although it was written in the wake of the Vietnam War – too, too timely.

12. On A Bus To St. Cloud – People see whatever they’ve experienced in the song. I saw a map and thought, “what a great place name.” It was snowing in Nashville, and that’s very unusual. So, all those things worked on me. The images came real quickly. I love to travel, and there are a lot of places which have real resonance for me. A few people picked up on the suicide thing right away. Others saw it as a failed relationship. But when someone dies-or leaves-it leaves the ultimate hole. Everywhere you go, you think you see them. You see them where they aren’t, because you can’t believe they’re gone…

13. When You Are Old – It was a real dance between the piano and the vocal, and yes, I stole the title from the W.B. Yeats poem. But this has a different slant. It’s about commitment and staying together until the end. I wrote it right after I found out a real close friend had been diagnosed with AIDS. Those sorts of things can create such bonds of closeness.

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Gretchen Peters

by Mike Davies

Making up for time lost with record label wrangles, Peters quickly follows up third album Halcyon with this stunning live set, recorded at the Glema Mahr Centre for the Performing Arts in Madisonville, Kentucky. Joined by Barry Walsh on piano (very Roy Bittan) and bassist Dave Francis, it’s an uncluttered, pure and achingly lovely stripped down collection of 13 songs about love, loss and leaving, the melancholy veined with a spiritual conviction that inner strength will prevail.

All of her three albums are represented here. Her overlooked debut, The Secret of Life, leads the count with four songs, the affirmations of constancy that are Over Africa and When You Are Old, the heartbreaking Circus Girl with its lonely narrator, and On A Bus To St. Cloud, the classic lament for lost love that provided a hit for Trisha Yearwood but which has never sounded as achingly exquisite as it does here.

From the self-titled album comes Souvenirs, her ‘little travelogue across America’ where she finds the promised land littered with “little tin toys that fall apart”, gospel hued forgiveness plea Revival, and Patty Loveless hit the female coming of age Like Water Into Wine. And from Halcyon, arguably her best studio album and most potent collection of songs to date, comes the set opening Museum’s wistful tale of turning a broken heart into a work of art and, perhaps her finest. most emotionally affecting work, the devastating This Used To Be My Town narrative about a murdered girl’s ghost returning to where she once lived.

For fans who’ve longed to have Peters’ own versions of songs she’s written for others but never released herself, the show also features her own previously unrecorded versions of You Don’t Even Know Who I Am, the tale of a broken marriage seen from both perspectives and covered by Patty Loveless, and, a 1998 Top 5 hit for Faith Hill, a playful The Secret Of Life where a couple of guys in a bar agree that a decent cup of coffee and Rolling Stones records make life worth living.

Which leaves Main Street, a resonant and reflective account of a town dying since the advent of an out of town shopping mall and freeway, has only previously appeared on the bootleg Buried Treasures, and the only cover in the set, her superb interpretation of Paul Simon’s American Tune, a song she says she rediscovered in the aftershock emptiness and search for comfort of 9/11.

As an artist in her own right, her name may not be as widely known as those who have benefited from her songs, but if proof were ever needed that this other GP is one of the most gifted songwriters and performers in America then this has it in spades.

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by Alan Cackett

The title says it all: classic songs performed by a classic singer-songwriter

Acclaimed, award-winning singer-songwriter Gretchen Peters is set to tour the UK again this autumn, so the release of this live album is timely. Recorded at the Glema Mahr Center for the Arts in Madisonville, Kentucky, with the basic, but very sensitive accompaniment of Barry Walsh (piano, vocals) and Dave Francis (acoustic bass, vocals), the CD has been available for some time via Gretchen’s website. Artists including Faith Hill, Bonnie Raitt, Martina McBride, Etta James, the Neville Brothers, Bryan Adams, Patty Loveless, Billy Ray Cyrus and Neil Diamond have recorded her smart, introspective songs, but for me, it’s always good to hear the writer perform their works, especially when they possess the interpretative powers that Gretchen has.

Comprising a dozen classic Gretchen songs, plus a great rendition of Paul Simon’s American Tune, this whole CD sees the incisive singer-songwriter at a peak of melodic, immaculately-crafted brilliance. Tracks such as the Patty Loveless hit Like Water Into Wine, the poignantly reflective Main Street and This Used To Be My Town are fine-cut gems of contemporary rootsy songcraft, tastefully performed, with the kind of memorable tunesmithery that lingers long after each song has ended. Sometimes music cuts deeper than mere words, this is very much the case with the closing When You Are Old. A stunning album that still makes sense, even if you have all of Gretchen’s studio albums.

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by Arthur Wood

You’ll Be Hooked From The Opening Track

The trio in the title of this live recording, captured last year in Madisonville, Kentucky, refers to the contributing players: Gretchen Peters (vocals and guitar), Barry Walsh (piano and backing vocals), and Dave Francis (bass and backing vocals). Walsh has played on all of Peters’ official solo releases, while Francis appeared on Gretchen Peters and Halcyon. Their input on Trio is substantial yet discreet, allowing Gretchen’s lyrics to have maximum impact on the listener. Born in New York State in the late 1950s, Peters was a popular club performer in Colorado long before she settled in Nashville in the late 1980s. Early in the 1990s she scored her first Country chart-topper when George Strait covered “Chill Of An Early Fall,” and more hits, CMA Awards, and Grammy nominations followed. Her debut album, The Secret Of Life, surfaced in 1996 and her second (eponymous) and third CDs were sustained by high-quality left-field songs. Halcyon came out in 2004; despite the familiarity of the material on Trio it is a major treat that one year on from Gretchen’s third studio release, we have these songs stripped bare in concert interpretations, since Peters possesses an edgy singing voice that will break your heart as easily as her stories and lyrics. Trio would be a sort of greatest hits collection, except that to do Gretchen’s song catalogue justice the reality would have been a multi-disc set.

Peters opens here with “Museum,” the closing cut on Halcyon. It’s the tale of an artist’s masterpiece “hanging on a wall in a museum,” and the lyric cross-references a number of well-known paintings. A woman’s life on the high wire unfolds to reveal loneliness – “It’s just that sometimes I get so tired/Of goin’ nowhere on that little wire” (from “Circus Girl” on The Secret Of Life). In “Like Water Into Wine” from the first CD, the female narrator comes of age. Tales from small American towns and the roads that connect them have been a rich source of material for Peters and a handful of them feature here. “Souvenirs,” which opened Gretchen Peters, finds the lovelorn female narrator setting out “like Kerouac in my American car.” in search of the promised land, only to find it littered with tourist traps that sell “little tin toys that fall apart.” Once upon a time “Main Street” was a bustling thoroughfare, but the arrival of an out-of-town mall and a freeway find the narrator commenting upon the silence that now pervades the place: “I listen for the rhythm in the heart of this old town/I listen for the slow and steady beat” — and the sight of a row of empty and boarded store-fronts only confirms the inevitable. As much as it is a sad song about an era now largely lost to Mall America, it is also a celebration of times now consigned to history. In that regard, “But he remembers how it was in 1945/When they marched out all the boys who made it home alive” and “There’s the corner store where I discovered Rock ‘n’ Roll/So many years before” honour that past. “Main Street” previously appeared on the Gretchen Peters bootleg recording Buried Treasures.

Trisha Yearwood’s single “On A Bus To St. Cloud” was covered by Jimmy LaFave’s cover on Texoma [2000], while Gretchen’s own version appeared on her 1996 debut. For almost a decade this wonderful character study has been a favourite of mine – “On a bus to St. Cloud, Minnesota/I thought I saw you there/With the snow falling down around you like a silent prayer” are merely the opening lines, and I’ve already got chills. Furthermore, it’s a travelogue that mentions all three coasts, it’s also a song about lost love, and is easily the equal of, for instance, Paul Simon’s “America.” Patty Loveless scored a #1 Country hit in 1996 with “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am,” the tale of a wife who had decided to leave her husband, and the song gained Peters her second Grammy nomination. In 1998 Gretchen scored a Top Five Country single with the title song of her debut album, albeit sung by Faith Hill. Subjectively, “The Secret Of Life” features the philosophical exchanges between Sam, the barkeep at the Starlight Bar, and a “couple of guys sittin’ around drinkin’.” The Gospel-tinged “Revival” opens on Tupelo Street and takes the seeking of forgiveness as its theme. Initially a cut on Gretchen Peters, it recently reappeared on LaFave’s Blue Nightfall [2005].

The love song “Over Africa”, from The Secret Of Life, features superb piano support from Barry Walsh, including a pounding solo at the close of the cut. The narrator in the finely observed “This Used To Be My Town,” from Halcyon, has passed away and in the process of passing over reflects upon the innocence of her early years, the loss of that innocence, and in the closing verse finds herself “flying through the clouds white as snow.” Introducing Simon’s “American Tune,” the only cover on Trio, Gretchen recalls that shortly after 9/11 she found solace in its lyric. The album closer, “When You Are Old,” another song from The Secret Of Life, has been covered by Martina McBride, and is subjectively self-explanatory by its title alone. That said, the lines “When your body aches with cold/I’ll warm your heart when you are old/Any you’ll still be the same to me/A comfort and a mystery” perfectly capture, with insight, a stage of life that Peters still has to reach.

If you’re not familiar with Gretchen Peters’ oeuvre, Trio is a perfect primer, and one that will have you hooked partway through the opening cut.

Arthur Wood is a founding editor of FolkWax.

The foregoing review appears in the free, weekly, online folk magazine Folkwax.

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