My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Gretchen Peters – ‘Hello, Cruel World’

Anyone who has followed country music closely during the past twenty years is familiar with Gretchen Peters, or will at least recognize some of her songs.  Most country music fans, however — myself included — are relatively unfamiliar with Gretchen Peters the performer, despite the fact that she has released nine albums over the past fifteen years.  Her latest effort, released this past January, is far removed from the realm of country music. It is more accurately described as a vanity project with no ties to a particular genre and not intended for mass appeal; in other words, “singer/songwriter.”  Those expecting to hear her take on her compositions that became hits for other artists will be disappointed; no such examples appear here.  Nor are there any songs that are likely to become mainstream hits for others in the future.

It’s interesting to hear how very different Peters’ own recordings are from the mainstream fare that did so much for the careers of the likes of Pam Tillis, Patty Loveless, George Strait, Martina McBride, and Trisha Yearwood.   As the title suggests, this is not a particularly happy album; it is a serious, introspective and often bleak affair, that unfortunately is at times quite tedious to listen to.  Peters wrote or co-wrote all of the album’s songs and co-produced the project with Doug Lancio and Barry Walsh.  The mid-tempo title track was released as a single — Gretchen’s first in 16 years — but it failed to chart.

Not surprisingly, the album’s main strength is its well-written songs, which are quite literate and tastefully produced.  However, I found myself enjoying them more as works of poetry, reading the lyrics in the liner notes than I did actually listening to them.  There is little variety in tempo throughout the album, and like most people who fall into the “singer/songwriter” category, Gretchen is a much better at writing songs than she is at singing them.   Her limited vocal ability doesn’t make it any easier to enjoy songs that I’m not particularly drawn to in the first place.

One song that I did enjoy very much is “Five Minutes”, told from the point of view of a downtrodden waitress taking a cigarette break and reflecting on a life that hasn’t quite turned out the way she planned.  While I felt little empathy for the characters in most of the album’s songs, the story in “Five Minutes” is told quite skillfully, and the listener is immediately drawn in.  It’s a song that I couldn’t help but tune into and pay close attention.  Other songs, though far removed from the mindless fluff dominating the mainstream airways, are confusing and are sometimes borderline pretentious.   “St. Francis”, co-written with Tom Russell, talks about the saint walking on water, playing the role of a beggar, a shepherd and a guest taking a cup of tea at a stranger’s table — all themes that have been used in songs countless times before,  but why St. Francis was chosen to fulfill a role that has almost always been used to refer to God or Jesus, is unclear.   Even more confusing is the bizarre “Idlewild”, told from the point of view of a child riding in the backseat of a car that is en route to the airport on the day of John F. Kennedy’s assassination.  The song’s gratuitous use of a racial epithet earned the album an “explicit” warning from both iTunes and Amazon, and quite possibly other vendors as well.

It’s quite likely that some crisis in Peters’ personal life inspired these songs, and perhaps knowing the backstory would make them easier to relate to.  But one shouldn’t have to have all the inside baseball knowledge in order to enjoy an album.  There is very little here to appeal to most country fans, unless they are also die-hard Gretchen Peters fans or enjoy spending 52 minutes listening to tales of unabated misery, in which case Hello, Cruel World may be just the ticket.

Grade:  C

6 responses to “Album Review: Gretchen Peters – ‘Hello, Cruel World’

  1. S Epperson March 22, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    There’s so much misinformation and lack of insight here it’s hard to know where to begin. First of all the single was never released to country radio, hence its “failure” to chart there. However, here in the UK, it remained on the BBC’s Radio 2 playlist, alongside artists such as Adele and Paul McCartney, for an astonishing and unheard-of seven weeks. In the USA, the album remains in the Americana top 10 (an album format – there are no singles). It’s universally considered Ms. Peters’ career-defining album. It’s being hailed as a masterpiece by critics and is also by the looks of it destined to be her most commercially successful record to date. She’s currently on tour in the UK and Europe and selling out shows everywhere. Is it an album of mainstream country music? No. She has never made a mainstream country record (not even her first album, The Secret Of Life really fell into that category) and clearly has no desire to. This is much smarter stuff than the pap that’s being served up by mainstream Music Row. IMO she deserves all the accolades this album is earning her. It’s her time.

    • Razor X March 22, 2012 at 1:41 pm

      Well, you *could* begin by citing some examples of “misinformation”. I never claimed that her single was released to country radio; I merely said that it didn’t chart in the US — which it didn’t.

      • S Epperson March 22, 2012 at 3:45 pm

        because there was no single released in the US. Very difficult to chart with a single that was never released.

  2. Ben Foster March 22, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    This is in the running for being my favorite album of 2012, tied with the upcoming Marty Stuart album, and it won’t be easily unseated. I think this is a great album mainly because it puts the focus on the songs themselves, which is refreshing considering so much of today’s music misses that mark. While the songs do take quite a few listenings to get the sense of, that adds to their appeal to me because there are so few releases these days that make me want to delve into the lyrics at all, because most just have nothing substantial to offer at all. This album, on the other hand, I find absolutely fascinating. Likewise, I don’t mind that the bleak mood of the material because I think addressing such hardships and vulnerabilities makes for some of the best music, country or otherwise.

  3. Fred Arnold April 4, 2012 at 5:54 am

    I’m with you, Ben Foster. Whilst it is not an upbeat album (neither is it remotely resembling a country album), it tells it exactly as it is – a cruel world in many, many respects. I think we owe it to ourselves to listen to music this good, even if for the most part we want to be uplifted with more cheerful fare. I would be ecstatic to hear another album as good as this in 2012. It speaks to a lot of situations amongst my family and friends over the years (even though I am British), and seeing GP sing this in its entirety during her current UK tour (with little anecdotes of explanation between some of the songs) only reinforces the depth and understanding in these lyrics. With the brilliant production and fabulous supporting players, this is an outstanding album and one of the leading contenders.for CD of the decade.

  4. sszorin July 31, 2015 at 12:43 am

    The review by ‘Razor X’ is a total miss. Caused by conditioning by defective culture of America.
    I will be charitable, because ‘ Razor X’ does, on the whole, a good work promoting country music, and say that he still has a road to travel to be more fully human and understanding of life, and of music as well.
    I am sick and tired of typical American primitive and rosy colored view of life which is reflected in the mainstream Nashville manufacture of musical manure. When this musical manure speaks of life’s pains it speaks of shallow and superficial ones – like : ‘I cheated on my partner and she cheated on me [or the other way around], now I have to get drunk or get a new whore, or a new pick-up truck’. Gretchen Peters’ album is a big dose of fresh air, she reflects on life as it is, for most people on this planet life is not a wonderful fun. It is for those who earn millions by doing pretty not much, but not fo those who belong to ‘99%’. This album is spiritually uplifting by helping us to reflect on our existence and thus helping us to become better human beings. The musical output of typical country music ‘artists’ is depressing because it is irrelevant, they are fit only to carry Gretchen Peters’ luggage when she travels.
    The religious kick at Gretchen was not necessary; I understand that for many in the Southern states Saint Francis was an agent of evil god who was helping the “whore of Babylon” [Catholic Church], but the insinuation of this Protestant-Freemasonic hate propaganda, which has been passed on to the Protestants by the satanist Gnostics, has no place whatsoever in a review of music. ‘Saint Francis’ is one of the most beautiful songs I ever heard, and I’ve heard many, many, in my life. Saints call us, by the examples of their living, to imitate Christ, and saint Francis in Gretchen’s song represents Christ rejected by our culture. Many profess by their lips to love Christ but they all would deny him if He came to their door – “St Francis begging at your doorway, you want to let him in but what will the neighbors say…” Does the reviewer understand what words
    “St. Francis walking on the water, All his lambs have gone to slaughter” mean ?
    The American view of life is a big lie, their lives are a big lie, and their music [mostly] is a big lie.
    The precious abums like Gretchen Peters’ ‘Hello, Cruel World’ come to us, by a miracle of God, only once in a while.
    This album gets ‘A’ rating from me, and I’ve heard a few thousands of them. It is one of the most loved albums I have in my possession, one of the most honest, truthful and beautiful.

    Grade : A

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