|Making an album needn’t be great art (although it turns out that way now and then) but if the process is about assembling a set of songs, each of which has a compelling narrative and a melody that makes you want to hang around for the next track, then Gretchen Peters has it nailed.|
Dancing with the Beast is the first release since the award winning Blackbirds in 2015. It’s common for the critics to express disappointment at the successor to such acclaimed work, but this surely won’t happen with this album. Dancing with the Beast is just too accomplished for that.
It’s not a happy anthology. Perhaps that’s to be expected from an artist whose merchandise bears the words ‘Sad Songs Make Me Happy.’ Yet the effect on the listener isn’t melancholic. The songs may be sad, but there’s an absence of self-pity, victimhood or sentimentality.
It’s also distinctively a collection of female experiences. From the abused teen on Wichita who takes matters literally into her own hands, the resigned prostitute in Truckstop Angel or the wistful regret of opening track Arguing With Ghosts.
‘He did two tours of duty out in Iraq. He came home but he didn’t come back,’ sings Peters of her character’s son in Disappearing Act. A neat rhyme, and one that shows the US is still disinterested in its war veterans once they’ve outlived their usefulness. And from the opening lines of that song:
'Well I used to be something back in my Prime
Had myself a pretty good time
By the looks of me you’d never know it today.'
Those words don’t describe their creator. If this release is anything to go by, Gretchen Peters is still in the midst of her best years.
- Les Pilling