It is a deep abiding passion for the song that has brought Gretchen Peters to the Grammys twice as a songwriter, won her a CMA Song Of The Year award for the groundbreaking Independence Day, taken her on repeated sold-out tours across the UK and Ireland, and seen the release of seven critically acclaimed albums. Now with the release of Circus Girl: The Best Of Gretchen Peters, her 13-year recording and touring career finally has the retrospective collection it deserves.
Set includes two previously unreleased bonus tracks
4 stars: Impeccable songcraft from a vastly underrated vocalist
At times it seems impossible that it was only thirteen years ago that Gretchen Peters released her debut album, and at other times I feel like I've been listening to her music for much, much longer. In reality. I have, as her songs recorded by the likes of George Strait. Martina McBride, Pam Tillis, Suzy Bogguss, Trisha Yearwood and Patty Loveless pre-date her recording debut by several years. This collection is aptly titled; as she's not had any 'hits' in terms of chart success, it is a self-compiled compilation of her best-known recordings from somewhat limited radio plays, but more importantly from live concerts. Unlike most Nashville-based songwriters who've made their money writing hits for the well-known stars, Gretchen has gone out there on the road to play her songs to an ever-increasing fan base.
Borrowing from such musical trailblazers as Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Sheryl Crow, Gretchen combines catchy songcraft and sonic adventurism with an endearing effortlessness. With a voice like polished copper in the firelight, Gretchen adds that special songwriter touch that burns like an arrow straight to my heart and soul.
Thirteen of these tracks are gathered from Gretchen's past albums, with two bonus tracks - Don't You Know and Nobody's Girl - previously unreleased. Five of the songs come from The Secret Of Life, her 1996 album debut. It's impossible for me to pick the best of them, because each one of them is an integral part of Gretchen's musical career. Let's just say that songs like On A Bus To St Cloud, The Secret of Life and Independence Day should be up there with the likes of Yesterday, You've Got A Friend and If You Could Read My Mind as genuine timeless pop classics. Other incredible songs include the heart-stirring Picasso And Me, which tells about the relationship between the famed painter and his cat, Sunday Morning, a gorgeous ballad that encapsulates everyday life so perfectly and In A Perfect World is a rhythmic gem about wanting more from life, but in the end settling for exactly what you have. Gretchen Peters is a singer-songwriter who gets to the very heart of life and relationships.
Embrace, enjoy and eulogise. --Maverick (UK) magazine
Gretchen Peters is one class act. As a songwriter she's up there with the female greats like Carole King and Dolly Parton, sharing that ability to take personal experiences and feelings and make them universal.
"p" Even if you're not familiar with Gretchen Peters the artist, you'll know her music if you've listened to any country music radio station over the last 15 years playing George Strait, Faith Hill or Shania Twain.
Circus Girl is the perfect introduction to her extensive catalogue of hits. It's a mix of heartfelt anthems like Independence Day, the Martina McBride CMA Song of the Year 1994, the mysterious On A Bus To St. Cloud (a massive hit for Trisha Yearwood) and the infectious In A Perfect World which features the voice of her sometime writing partner, Canadian rocker Bryan Adams.
"p" Collected from her four studio albums "i"The Secret Of Life, "i"Gretchen Peters, "i"Halcyon and "i"Burnt Toast amp; Offerings, with two new numbers, there's not a bad track on this album. The songs reflect Peters' life through child-rearing, divorce, falling in love and losing a parent, but they also relate to anyone who's had their heart broken, and subsequently, mended.
Through her lyrics she demonstrates her great power of observation, whether seen through the eyes of Picasso's stray cat in Picasso And Me, or the high-wire artist of the title track, Circus Girl. While she displays her barbed wit on This Town - "This town is a lot like me/Sadder and wiser than it used to be/A little sprawled out, a little run down/I wonder what's gonna become of this town."
As a performer her charm is the rawness of her delivery. The simple acoustic guitar and piano accompaniment on the majority of tracks allows her crystal-clear voice to shine. Like Emmylou without the vibrato or Maria McKee without the whisky hoarseness, her voice gives the songs a vulnerability and authenticity.
She's at her purest when singing from the heart, as on the I Will Survive-type anthem Tomorrow Morning, the feel good Sunday Morning or When You Are Old, a poignant celebration of ageing love which ranks up there with John Prine's Hello In There.
Her biggest hit, Independence Day, is hardly recognisable from Martina McBride's power ballad in its rawness. Over 15 years old, the power of its anti-domestic violence message is as strong as ever. When Republican Sarah Palin used it in her election campaign, Peters donated the royalties to the Planned Parenthood pro-choice campaign in Palin's name. Martina may have made it famous, Gretchen does it justice.
Of the two new tracks Don't You Know is a slice of late-night lounge jazz while Nobody's Girl would sit comfortably on any McBride album.
Peters says great songs are born out of pain, anger, joy and wit. This is the work of a woman who knows how to laugh and cry and can move listeners in the same way. --Country Music People (UK)