Grammy nominated singer-songwriter Gretchen Peters calls her latest album Hello Cruel World her "most close-to-the-bone work, written at a time when I felt absolutely fearless about telling the truth." Peters and guest Rodney Crowell sing, "life is still a beautiful disaster," on "Dark Angel." But Peters keeps the accent on the "beautiful" throughout her ninth disc, with both her poetic language and the spare, evocative sounds she created in the studio to support her organic story-telling.
Ultimately Hello Cruel World details the sheer triumph of survival and of finding strength, joy and growth in everyday life despite the challenges of our increasingly complex times.
Her characters, like the broken-hearted narrator of "Natural Disaster" and the human target of "Woman On the Wheel," don't just search for fulfillment.
They take risks to find it.
Peters' warm-honey voice softens the edge of desperation in numbers like the character study "Camille," where a gently blown muted trumpet offers shadings of cool jazz, and in " The Matador" the earthy maturity of her phrasing injects empathy — a quality that makes all of Peters' songs ring consistently true — into a tale about the dark underbelly of love. Peters' own voice and guitar playing have been at the core of her music since she started performing in the Boulder, Colorado folk circuit as a teenager.
Inspired by Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and a new generation of songwriters rising out of Nashville that included Steve Earle, Nanci Griffith and Rodney Crowell, Peters relocated to Music City in the late 1980s.
Initially she found Nashville inspiring.
"Being in a place where you can hear so many good songwriters perform their work on just an acoustic guitar really made me understand the anatomy of songs in a way I didn't until I moved here," Peters relates. The downside was a music business culture that typically perceived "singer" and "songwriter" as different jobs.
"The either/or attitude was baffling, since all my favorite artists also wrote their own material," Peters says.
"I never had any aspirations of being a hit songwriter for other artists." Nonetheless, Martina McBride's 1995 recording of Peters' "Independence Day," the gritty story of an abused woman's revenge, made her a songwriting sensation.
The performance received a "Best Country Song" Grammy nomination and won the Country Music Association's "Song of the Year" title.
After that a string of great vocalists — Pam Tillis, Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless, Neil Diamond, George Strait, Etta James — began to record Peters' songs. Since her 1996 debut The Secret Of Life, Peters has recorded five other solo albums: Gretchen Peters (2001), Halcyon (2004), Trio Live (2006), Burnt Toast and Offerings (2007) and Northern Lights (2008).
The compilation Circus Girl was released in 2009.
And that same year Peters collaborated with one of her favorite songwriters, Tom Russell, for their One To the Heart, One To the Head. "Since I was a child I've had a creative urge knocking inside me and I've acted on it, " Peters offers.
"Early on it was poetry, sometimes art, and sometimes, as a kid, dance.
Until I found the guitar I was interested in anything expressive.
By then words were a friend, but music was a tall dark stranger that I've been in love with, or maybe stalking, ever since."
When All You Got Is a Hammer (Radio Edit)