There’s something thrilling about being that close to songwriters as good as Baker, Mary Gauthier, Kevin Gordon, David Olney, Eliza Gilkyson, Oliver Wood, John Fullbright, Gretchen Peters and Malcolm Holcombe. In such intimate quarters, no amplifiers are needed, so you get to hear their unmediated guitar picking and conversational voices. By deemphasizing arrangement and production, this format puts the emphasis on a singer/songwriter’s two primary tools: words and melody.
Peters, for example, is a Grammy-nominated Nashville songwriter who has written hits for Martina McBride and Patty Loveless, but in the hotel’s room 1725 Friday night, all the gloss of Music Row production melted away and you could suddenly see just how smart and rootsy her lyrics are. Accompanied only by Barry Walsh’s piano accordion and her own acoustic guitar, Peters focused not on her radio hits but on her terrific new solo album, Hello Cruel World. On the album’s best song, “Five Minutes,” her character finds herself caught between a comfortable husband and the troubling memory of an ex-lover. Like Baker, Peters refused to smooth over such contradictions and instead allowed the tension to fester. And in those close quarters the anxiety really got under the skin.
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