Thursday, August 20, 2009

Gretchen Peters: One to the Heart, One to the Head

One To The Heart, One To The Head

The west is a landscape of transformation and mystery, a place where, if you’re there, your background is transformed, and if you return to the home place, you arrive changed. This is as true, I’ve found, whether the west in question turns out to be the highlands of Scotland, the western counties of Ireland, the Rockies and the Sangre de Cristos and the Llano Estacado of the United States, or the high plains and the northern Rockies of Alberta.

Mystery and transformation are stock in trade in the work of songwriters Gretchen Peters and Tom Russell, so it’s all the more interesting that when they got together for an album of songs about the west, only one -- Russell’s song Guadalupe-- is an original by either of them. Barry Walsh, whose keyboard work illuminates many of the tracks, contributes a fine original track too, and all the rest are covers.

Covers of songs by writers who really know their west it turns out, and know it from differing yet intersecting perspectives. The story opens with Walsh’s reflective instrumental, North Platte. It moves forward with the intriguing triad of Mary McCaslin’s Prairie in the Sky, Bob Dylan’s Billy 4, and Ian Tyson’s Blue Mountains of Mexico. Stephanie Davis’ contemplative song Wolves, about the loneliness and resignation that living in the west sometimes requires, is another outstanding cut. Actually they all are, from Russell's mystic and shadowed tale of pain and longing in Guadalupe, the tinge of bar room wisdom in Sweet and Shiny Eyes, to Rosalie Sorrels My Last Go Round, which could be said to look at the same story as Guadalupe from another place along the journey.

Peters lived in Colorado for some time, and Russell has lived in far west Texas. They each hold the perspective of an artist grounded in American west, along with the perspective of artists who have traveled the world. It’s a project filled with imagination and integrity, which comes through clearly in the song choice, in Peters’ lead singing, and in the collaboration with the musicians who work with her. It’s a collection of songs which will linger with you well after the playing is done, and one to which you’ll want to return.

you may also want to see

Gretchen Peters: Northern Lights

Dakota Lullaby: Albert & Gage

Ian Tyson: Yellowhead to Yellowstone

Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh’s recording of Gerry O Beirne’s song Western Highway is one view of the idea of the west from an Irish perspective that’s worth checking out.

2010 Songwriter's Market: Where & How to Market Your Songs for an interview with Peters.

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


Anonymous jennifer Margulis said...

This looks like a really interesting album.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Alexandra Grabbe said...

I was very intrigued by how you described the influence of the west. It certainly made me want to listen to these songs. Thanks for the recommendation!

4:52 PM  
Anonymous ReadyMom said...

Where did Peters live in Colorado?

1:16 PM  
Blogger kerry dexter said...

she lived in Boulder

2:00 PM  
Anonymous Meredith Resnick - The Writer's [Inner] Journey said...

It does look interesting. I also love the cover...the art and the colors.

10:56 AM  

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