This is Gretchen Peters’ first appearance on FFS, and she’s most decidedly at the country end of our folk spectrum (if you remember Faith Hill, she wrote a song for her in the 90s). She’s lived in Nashville since the ’80s, and my does it show. Hello Cruel World is her 9th album (she’s been releasing music since the mid 90s) and it’s also, according to the woman herself, her “most close-to-the-bone work, written at a time when I felt absolutely fearless about telling the truth.”
During the writing of this album, Peters was exposed to rather a few extreme life events: one of her best friends committed suicide, her son revealed that he was transgender, and she got married. The fruits of this hectic time are varied: at points poetic and well-paced, at others a little awkward. Whilst the instrumentation is often impressively sumptuous, occasionally the lyrics verge on the comical, as in this awkward rhyme in ‘Paradise Found’:
“I worship no idol, I seek no god
I don’t believe in no holy jihad”
What Peters’ songwriting misses in wit, though, she makes up with emotional authenticity. In fact, at points she seems just a little too earnest, with the emotional intensity dial turned right up to 11 a little more often than some ears might prefer. That said, ‘Five Minutes’ is a gentle, well-observed and reflective song from the viewpoint of an overstretched single mother struggling with a teenage daughter who’s reliving all her mistakes.
‘St Francis’ is similarly understated, with touches of heaven thrown in: angels, saints, and swelling, wandering choral overtures sigh through a not over-long five minutes, and ‘The Matador’ is a piece of high-calibre symbolic storytelling, in which both fighter and bull capture the imagination of the uncertain female ‘hanger on’ at the heart of the song.
The contradictorally titled Hello Cruel World isn’t this reviewer’s particular cup of tea, but it has much to offer an out-and-out country fan.