Sunday 21 May 2023

Gig Review: Gretchen Peters - Town Hall, Birmingham. Saturday 20th May 2023

It may have been a listing in the Robin 2 booklet or something in Maverick Magazine? It could have been seeking who wrote the Martina McBride smash hit 'Independence Day'? It definitely wasn't Terry Wogan, the ears were elsewhere. Whatever the trigger, the music of Gretchen Peters landed in my vicinity in 2006. Maybe a decade late, but it's where you finish not where you start. The association began live with a visit to the Robin 2 on Tuesday 18th July 2006. Seventeen years later a chapter closes as the curtain comes down on the Gretchen Peters touring years. Comebacks are notorious in this game and a little chink in the curtain has been left open on the overseas live front, but let's respect an artist's wish to end one phase of their professional life.


Bar one sentimental send off song with a duo version of the standard 'One for My Baby', it was business as usual stage-wise for Gretchen Peters. Barry Walsh was mesmerically glued to the Town Hall's grand piano (except for the essential accordion parts on 'Guadalupe and The Matador''). Conor McCreanor (bass) and Colm McClean (lead guitar) have become permanent fixtures in the last few years. There was even a familiar face opening in the guise of longterm friend Kim Richey. The grandeur of Birmingham's Town Hall has also become her go-to West Midlands haunt in recent times. An obvious upgrade on the sticky floor of the Robin, but roots in music should never be underplayed. 

The song selection for this final run of dates was as expected. An obvious leaning towards some of the newer material represents the prime evolution of Gretchen Peters' songwriting. A skill that fermented like the finest old world wine. Of course there was space for some absolute live standards. Has she ever left a stage without singing 'On a Bus to St. Cloud? The obligatory intro applause is another permanent fixture. 


One of the many legacies of Gretchen Peters touring was the introduction to the music of Ben Glover. In a defiant show that the creative music making is far from over, we were introduced to a new song co-written with her long time writing collaborator. If 'Judas Kiss' has the lasting effect of show opener 'Blackbirds' (another Peters/Glover co-write), then this race is far from run. 

This show has been postponed several times since the original planned staging in 2020. Gretchen Peters has used the intervening period to record a covers album of Mickey Newbury songs. One of those ('Why You Been Gone So Long') upped the tempo in the first encore slot before the stage ensemble kept the mood going with a regular cover of Rodney Crowell's 'I Ain't Living Long Like This'. Gretchen Peters may be inspired by the songs of others she sings, but they will never define her.


Many will vow that 'On a Bus to St. Cloud' does this. There is also an argument that 'Independence Day' opened many doors. Sadly this didn't make the final show cut, but what better way to celebrate the morning after than a twin playing of versions by Martina McBride and American Aquarium. For me the defining achievement of Gretchen Peters is writing a song in 2012 that gets better with each play and conveys the emotivity of sprinkling every second of a confined space with lyrical artistry. 'Five Minutes', the literal framework that nails an art and melts a heart.

Thanks for memories, and so long for this trusted format of continuously visiting the English Midlands. Not forgetting the Wine, Women and Song events as well. Shows at the Robin, the Atrix in Bromsgrove, the Assembly in Leamington Spa and now Birmingham Town Hall have been always attended and throughly enjoyed. I'll leave pre-2006 to others. You know who you are. 

Whatever happens next, the last seventeen years have been a blast. 

Gretchen Peters, Cadogan Hall review – writer and performer of exquisite gems (live review)

It’s 27 years since Gretchen Peters released her debut album, The Secret of Life, championed by Bob Harris and the late Terry Wogan, whose morning-tide enthusiasms also helped propel Eva Cassidy and Beth Neilsen Chapman to success - the term “Americana” hadn’t yet been invented!

Peters has been touring Britain for some 25 years, unusually for an American recording a live album here (The Show: Live from the UK), which captured her just pre-Covid performing a career-spanning selection of songs with the all-female Southern Fried String Quartet. She’s won, or been nominated for, a raft of distinguished awards, including the Academy of Country Music’s Poet’s Award. And rightly so, for she is a distinguished writer of exquisite gems that get under your skin and stay with you.

I’d not yet encountered her when I pitched up to a dreary space under railway arches in west London mostly to see Joan Baez, who was poised for a career relaunch. Songwriters’ Circle ran for a couple of seasons on BBC TV, a wonderful idea which made for engaging viewing. Baez shared the stage with Peters and the equally talented Matraca Berg. I’d heard of neither of them before that night but immediately bought their records and was richly rewarded.

“On a Bus to St Cloud” and “Independence Day” were the songs Peters sung that July night, the latter named Song of the Year in 1995 by America’s powerful Country Music Association – she was only the second woman to win that award.

At Cadogan Hall last night, Peters played the closing date of a three-week tour which now heads to Nashville. She’s retiring from the road, though autumn finds her in Tuscany leading songwriting workshops – something one hopes she will continue. The Nashville machine may not have made her a superstar – she’s too unflashy for that role – but she’s built a large and loyal following that appreciates the poetry and musicianship of her work. Neither singer nor audience wanted the evening to end, and Peters delivered an utterly enthralling show. She was backed by a trio of fine musicians, including her pianist husband Barry Walsh, who stood up from the keyboard to add accordion flourishes to a couple of numbers, including “The Matador” and Tom Russell’s exquisite and atmospheric “Gaudalupe”. At times I was reminded of early Hot Band. Kim Richey, alone with her guitar, opened the evening and joined Peters on stage to add harmony to a number of songs.

The evening drew widely from her own distinguished catalogue, and that of such Nashville confrères as Rodney Crowell and Micky Newbury, opening with “Blackbirds”, the title track of her 2015 album. “Pretty Things”, the exquisite “Say Grace”, “Everything Falls Away”, “Wichita”, and “Five Minutes” were among the number covered. There was a new song, “Judas Kiss”, and of course, as the evening sadly drew to a close, “On a Bus to St Cloud” and “When You Are Old”, a perfect miniature that is as profound and moving as anything in popular music. I defy anyone not to be oved by its poignancy and pathos, so beautifully and economically expressed. (Matraca Berg’s “Back When We Were Beautiful” is a similar gem.)

Peters acknowledged a roster of individuals who have been key to her success and seemed genuinely moved by the audience response. It was a generous and memorable 90 minute set that she closed with “One for My Baby”, the old Harold Arlen – Johnny Mercer chestnut from Burnt Toast and Offerings. Let’s hope the albums keep on coming.

Gretchen Peters and Band at The Apex, Bury St Edmunds, UK

Barry Walsh 


Scarlet Letter Records 


An accomplished collection of, mainly piano-led, melodic instrumentals 

    Four years on from his accomplished debut solo set, THE CROSSING, Walsh has produced, arranged, engineered and penned the majority of the twelve selections on PARADISO. Walsh (piano, electric piano, synthesizer, accordion and electric guitar) is assisted on his sophomore outing by spouse/skilled songwriter Gretchen Peters (piano, vocals), multi-talented Nashville studio owners/album producers/sidemen Doug Lancio (electric guitars) and David Henry (cello), Barry’s son Brennan (electric guitar), and from bluegrass band Blue Highway the inimitable Rob Ickes (dobro). 

    There’s a definite European flavour to this collection with titles including the brisk and airy yet assertive, cello-supported Koblenz, and Paradiso named after the iconic Amsterdam concert venue where Peters and Walsh have performed so often. The title Paradiso is also undoubtedly a reflection on the joyous quality of Walsh’s life these days, having married Gretchen in late 2010. Appropriately Gretchen’s Theme opens this album, and there’s an extended interpretation of North Platte which opened (and was also reprised on) the Gretchen Peters with Tom Russell collaboration One To The Heart, One To The Head (2009).  Marathon Motor Works prominently features Ickes, and the three-way, fold-out, card liner includes a picture of Barry outside this former early twentieth-century factory in downtown Nashville, re-developed a quarter and a century ago as Marathon Village into a complex of artists’ and photographers’ studios, offices, radio station and more. 

    At some six and a half minutes duration each, Youth And Age (co-written with Brennan Walsh) it takes its name from a William Butler Yeats poem) and July 20, a reference to the date the melody was created, are the longest selections on PARADISO. Both are gently/moderately paced melodic delights. Written by Gretchen Peters and Barry, the album’s only other composing collaboration is Seven Weeks. Thereon the latter switches to keyboard and electric guitar, while the former plays piano. Running out at just short of two minutes each, interpretations of Son Binocle (it translates from the French as His Monocle) from the pen of classical music composer Erik Satie, bookend four selections and constitutes the second half of this album. Inclusion of the latter finds Walsh echoing THE CROSSING, his first release, which featured Satie’s Je Te Veux. Here, the first version is piano-led while the second employs electronic sounds and confirms Barry’s love for this Frenchman’s Oeuvre. Waxing and waning, twice, Gretchen adds a delicately angelic vocal to There’s Been An Incident, one of the foregoing (bookended) quartet and this album’s penultimate selection. 

- Arthur Wood, Maverick UK. 2012

Fatea, UK. 2012 

Paradiso – Barry Walsh 

Barry Walsh has been busy recently producing albums for Gretchen Peters and Tom Russell, but is best known as  a professional musician for more than three decades; in this time he has performed with Roy Orbison, Jimmy Webb and Al Green, and he's written songs that were recorded by Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter and the Amazing Rhythm Aces.  He has played keyboards for years for The Box Tops and all of this is in addition to touring extensively with singer-songwriter Gretchen Peters (over twelve times since 2001)  During this time he has mesemerised UK audiences with his piano playing, both accompanying Gretchen (his introduction to A Bus to St Cloud, is enough to make a grown man cry) and during his now highly anticpated solo piece during her shows.  I’m not sure he’d now be able to leave The Sage, Gateshead, without playing Leaving Newcastle, for us, from his first CD, The Crossing. 

Barry’s second CD, Paradiso, has been a long time coming, but mark my words, it is worth the wait!  Produced by esteemed Producer-guitarist Doug Lancio (Patty Griffin, John Hiatt, Gretchen Peters, among others) the album comprises twelve pieces of music, all composed by Walsh. Lancio adds his guitar prowess to There’s Been an Incident, which is further enhanced by a stunning choral arrangement by Gretchen Peters. Rob Ickes of Blue Highway adds some dobro to Marathon Motor Works and, in a total twist, Peters who plays piano while Walsh adds guitar on a track theyco-wrote, called  Seven Weeks.  This will be less of a surprise to fans of Gretchen, who have been seeing her play guitar at shows for a while now!  Walsh’s son Brennan co-wrote and accompanies his Dad on guitar, for Youth and Age; perhaps two generations playing this piece together adds a certain poignancy. Finally, esteemed musician Dave Henry adds his cello to several of the pieces on the CD. 

North Platte debuted on the Gretchen Peters/ Tom Russell collaboration; One to the Heart, One to The Head, where it appeared in two parts, and I am happy to see it also made it’s way onto this collection.  It is such an atmospheric piece that it takes you away in your mind, to the place it ‘describes.’ Again demonstrating his admiration for French composer Eric Satie, we see one of his compositions, Son Binocle, covered to great effect here. The music conveys the humour in the piece, without any need for words.  This then reappears to close the CD...there is a reason... 

I admitted that before hearing Barry’s first CD I had always struggled to ‘get’ music without lyrics.  The Crossing changed that for much so that I spent a week in New Orleans and fell in love with the jazz music that surrounded me there.  I was able to relate to it, to catch the emotion in the music and infer its meaning and the story it was telling me, without any need for words.  It gave me a new appreciation of music I’d never had previously.  Paradiso, in one listen, took me on a musical journey, to somewhere I had never been before, but I know that every time I put the CD in the player, I will go back. A place where music tells its own stories and stirs your emotions.  That is Barry Walsh’s talent and that talent is the reason why every one should own Paradiso.  While you’re at it, pick up The Crossing, if you don’t already own a copy.

- Helen Mitchell

Dallas Morning News 

Michael Granberry 

Barry Walsh 

The Crossing 

(Scarlett Letter Records, 2008) 

Terrific sidemen are the unsung heroes of the music world. Barry Walsh is a piano virtuoso whose gifts at the keyboard have added so much to the music of the Box Tops and singer-songwriter Gretchen Peters, as they did in the past for Roy Orbison, Jimmy Webb and Al Green. Mr. Walsh has released a solo album of his own compositions, and it's nothing short of spellbinding. He admits being influenced by Bach, and it shows. This is not a pop album, nor is it New Age. Rather, it has elements of classical, jazz and blues, and it takes you on a mesmerizing journey. Mr. Walsh has circumvented the genre of solo piano recordings by slowing down the pace and letting the individual pieces speak for themselves. And they do, loudly and lyrically. 

Michael Granberry

now playing: barry walsh : the crossing 

By Kerry Dexter 

Barry Walsh has been making music professionally for more than thirty years. Most of that has been spent in Nashville recording studios. In recent years he’s been touring in support of singer and songwriter Gretchen Peters, and with Alex Chilton and the Box Tops. His past history includes backing up Roy Orbison and Jimmy Webb, and writing songs that Waylon Jennings and The Amazing Rhythm Aces, among others, have recorded. 

Thanks in part to encouragement from Peters. Walsh has now gotten around to recording his first solo album, and it’s something none of those credits noted above would likely prepare you for. Original, mostly just Walsh and his piano, it’s music that draws on both Bach and folk, and remains true to the voice of this artist. Without the first word being said, Walsh speaks clearly and movingly of connection, discovery, love’s questions and love’s certainties, and the varied landscapes of thought and emotion. David Henry adds masterful cello on several tracks, including the opening title cut, and Mark Selby brings in guitar on Nigel’s Blues. The only cover is a twice imagined take on Erik Satie’s Je Te Vieux, a piece which Walsh presents as at once somber and seeing the possibility of joy. It fits in perfectly with the rest of the collection. 

- Kerry Dexter, Music Road

Fatea, UK. 2008

Barry Walsh has been a professional musician for more than three decades, and in that time he's performed with Roy Orbison, Jimmy Webb and Al Green, and he's written songs that were recorded by Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter and the Amazing Rhythm Aces. Currently, in addition to touring extensively with singer-songwriter Gretchen Peters (over ten times since 2001), Walsh plays keyboards for the recently revived Memphis rock and soul band The Box Tops, featuring Alex Chilton. 

The Crossing was recorded at Walsh's home on a Kimball Viennese Edition grand piano with touches of backing by cellist David Henry and guitarist Mark Selby. Walsh's Labrador Retriever Nigel lay motionless at the feet of Selby as he overdubbed on an as yet untitled song. It was duly named "Nigel's Blues" in his honor. 

I have to confess to being one of those people who never really ‘got’ music without lyrics.  However, maybe as a result having been mesmerized so many times watching him play with Gretchen, I was eagerly anticipating the release of this album. On first listen, what was immediately obvious was the emotion that had gone into these beautiful pieces of music.  Even before reading about the album, it is apparent that each one came from a personal place, be it experience of affinity. 

The latter is true of ‘Je Te Veux.’ Barry comments of the track, “This is an Erik Satie (the French composer) piece, and the only song I didn't write on the CD. I have been playing Satie's music for 40 years.” ‘ 

That, therefore leads us to the rest of the album, Walsh’s own compositions.   The Title song, ‘The Crossing,’ a metaphor for the changes in two lives over a period of time, one of which was his own.  Angel of Repose’ was the title of one of his favorite books, by Wallace Stegner and  ‘Years May Go By’ was inspired by a  line in a Rikki Lee Jones song.  The obvious love for England which has grown over his years of playing here is evidenced in the fact that two songs on the album refer to UK cities; the haunting ‘Leaving Newcastle’ and ‘Exeter Cathedral’, the melody of which remains with you long after the final piano chord is played. 

Barry Walsh truly is one of the most remarkable and intuitive musicians I have ever had the pleasure to watch and he has created his own piece of magic in his first CD release.  I am hoping that when he tours here with Gretchen this year we may be given the opportunity to hear even just one of these tracks performed live – maybe ‘Leaving Newcastle’ in the city which it honours.  In the meanwhile this Cd will continue to have heavy rotation on my CD player and I only hope there are more where this came from.  Apparently I do ‘get’ music without lyrics after all. 

- Helen Mitchell, Fatea UK

Maverick, UK 

Alan Cackett 

Barry Walsh The Crossing( Scarlet Letter Records 207141-2) *** 

Barry Walsh is probably familiar to a good many Maverick readers, as for the past eighteen years he has played keyboards for Gretchen Peters and accompanied her on most of her UK tours. Now he steps into the spotlight with his solo album of deftly played piano pieces. He plays a Grand piano, and apart from Erik Satie's Je Te Veux, all the tunes have been penned by Barry and several were inspired by his tours in the UK like the delicate and reflective Leaving Newcastle and the more grandiose Exeter Cathedral. Though recorded in Nasville, this has no connection to country music, but just might be of interest to Gretchen Peters' fans. 

- Alan Cackett

AP Review by Pablo Garondi

Gretchen Peters, “The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury” (Scarlet Letter Records)

It took Gretchen Peters years to complete her album dedicated to Mickey Newbury’s rich catalog, a careful and sensible pace. 

Newbury’s songs carry such depths of feeling — skewing mostly toward the dark side of life — that interpreting these 12 tunes in just a few sessions could have been as intense as it would have been unnecessary.

Even the only truly bouncy piece here, “Why Have You Been Gone So Long,” mentions a plan to “kill a fifth of Thunderbird and try to write a sad song.” 

Peters and co-producer-keyboard player-husband Barry Walsh recorded the basic tracks with guitarist Will Kimbrough at Cinderella Sound, the same studio in the Nashville suburb of Madison where Newbury, who died in 2002, made some of his most memorable albums.

The arrangements put Peters’ distinct and precise voice front and center, with restrained enhancements that are all the more effective for it.

Whether it’s Dan Dugmore’s pedal steel on songs like “The Sailor,” the harmonica of Charlie McCoy — a frequent Newbury collaborator — on “San Francisco Mabel Joy,” Buddy Miller’s harmony vocals on “Frisco Depot,” or the string section on closer “Three Bells For Stephen,” everything sounds like it was meant to be there.

Newbury’s compositions were covered by everyone from Elvis Presley to Ray Charles. Peters has included a few of the hits, like “She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye” and “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” but she sings them more like Newbury, who frequently re-recorded or performed considerably different versions of his songs.

Also of note are the title track, one of Newbury’s most nostalgic, and “Heaven Help the Child,” a trip through generations that Peters makes her own.

Just like Newbury did, Peters has braided a Nashville career as songwriter to the stars with her own series of excellent albums. Here, she gifts one of her heroes the best kind of tribute, where the quality of the performances reciprocates the quality of the songs.

Glide Magazine Review


It was time for Gretchen Peters to take a break. She set the bar so high with three consecutively brilliant albums –  2012’s Hello Cruel World, 2015’s Blackbirds and 2018’s Dancing With the Beast,that she wanted to take a long-awaited pause and pay tribute to one of her major influences. “I had had the idea of recording an album of Mickey Newbury’s songs for the past 10 or 15 years, but it was always one of those ideas I put on the shelf because I was busy writing and making records of my own songs,” Peters explains about the conception of the album. She continues, “I decided early on that I didn’t want to make an album of Mickey’s hits…All my lifelong favorites were on the first list, of course – but some of those, much as I loved them, proved not to be the right fit. I came across ‘The Night You Wrote That Song’ early on, and felt it was the perfect title for the album. You never knew how right you were the night you wrote that song… seems to sum up my feelings towards Mickey Newbury perfectly. In so many ways he was ahead of his time.”

Peters will release the album digitally on May 15th but is delaying the physical release until June 19th, due to our current pandemic. She has released three singles already – “Wish I Was,” “Why You Been Gone So Long” and “The Night You Wrote That Song.” “‘Wish I Was’ is one of the first Newbury songs I remember hearing,” Peters told Billboard“I’ve known and loved the song since the late 70s, so it was always on my shortlist for this album. I’m drawn to visual imagery in songs, and this lyric is like a little movie; full of beautiful images (I wish I was a grain of sand/playing in a baby’s hands/falling like a diamond chain into the ocean) and that pervasive sadness that Mickey’s songs are known for.”  

While many of the songs fall into a maudlin camp, the rollicking “Why You Been Gone So Long” is a burning country rocker featuring stellar rocking piano from husband, Barry Walsh, drums from Bryan Owings, and a host of vocalists that include Walsh, Kim Richey, Wayne Moss, Dee Moeller, Robert Lucas, and Will Kimbrough. Peters told another outlet, “I started playing ‘Why You Been Gone So Long’ as part of our encore with my band a couple of years ago. For me it’s a throwback to the years I spent playing in bars, in my late teens and early 20s. You had to have those barn burners to play in clubs – the ones that gave the band a chance to stretch out. It’s such a kick to sing.” You may be sitting quietly with your glass of wine and jump out of the chair to dance to this one. 

On the other hand, the soft ballad, “The Night You Wrote That Song,” imbued by Walsh’s accordion, is the perfect vehicle for her gossamer voice that deeply stirs emotions in what by now, is Peters’ signature style. Here she also quotes lines from Kristofferson’s more famous “help Me Make It Through the Night.” Listeners will likely find her slowed, haunting take of the First Edition’s radio hit, “I Just Stopped In (To see What Condition My Condition Was In) both mesmerizing and fascinating.Another highlight is the sterling rendition of “Frisco Depot” featuring Buddy Miller on the harmony vocal while Peters accents every note of loneliness and pain. Will Kimbrough’s blazing guitar, Walsh’s keyboards, and McLoughlin’s fiddle fire the soaring “Leavin’ Kentucky.” Dan Dugmore’s pedal steel and legendary harmonicist Charlie McCoy bring impeccable touches to the intriguing narrative “San Francisco Mabel Joy.” 

Every one of her interpretations offers something special. There’s the sad poetry of the opening “Sailor,” and the weeping beauty of “She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye,” (a big hit for both Ronnie Milsap and Jerry Lee Lewis) where Dugmore’s pedal steel is simply immaculately perfect for the tune. There’s the wanderlust of “Heaven Help the Child” and the haunting desolation of “Wish I Was.” She seems to futilely search for salvation in her tender rendition of “Saint Cecelia” before ending beautifully with the mournful, piano, string-laden “Three Bells for Stephen” – “Now I come to you/Dear hearts and gentle people/A voice across an endless sea of time/Where ever there are songs I will be singing/Dear hearts and gentle people goodnight/Dear hearts and gentle people goodnight.” 

The album was recorded at Cinderella Sound Studios near Nashville, where Newbury recorded his great trio of early ‘70s albums –  Looks Like RainFrisco Mabel Joy and Heaven Help The Child. Cinderella sits outside Nashville as a secluded converted garage studio in Madison, TN. Peters, Walsh, and Kimbrough (see below) took their time, recording a few songs at a time over the course of two and a half years. Cinderella owner, and legendary guitarist Wayne Moss who worked with Newbury, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, and others also contributed.

Peters expounds on making the album, “Mickey had such a distinctive guitar style. I didn’t want somebody who would copy it, but someone who could sort of ‘channel” it. And I Knew that person wasn’t going to be me. I knew going into this that I didn’t want to play guitar. That’s how Will Kimbrough became such a huge part of the record. I also knew that I wanted the basic tracks to be live, so that I could just sing. Barry and Will could play. We did the whole album that way, just the three of us. Then if we felt we needed to add stuff, we did.”

Newbury is revered among songwriters. You may recall the famous name drop in Waylon and Willie’s “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love).”  (“Between Hank Williams’ pain songs and Newbury’s train songs and ‘Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain’/ Out in Luckenbach, Texas ain’t nobody feelin’ no pain,” Jennings sings in the 1977 song.) In 1980, Newbury was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Newbury is a favorite of  the late John Prine and Kris Kristofferson, who once said “I’m sure that I never would have written ‘Bobby McGee’ and ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ if I had never known Mickey. He was my hero and still is.”

Peters continues to make exquisite recordings. This writer admires her artistry so much that initially an album of covers was disappointing news. Yet, in true Peters style this holds up as well as her originals efforts. She says it this way, “…And in the back of my mind, I hoped that this project would inspire my own writing. And it did. These are inspiring songs…My ultimate goal was to create new Mickey Newbury fans. I wanted to shine a light on him.” Yes, she went far beyond accomplishing that goal. She not only captured every drip of emotion in his lyrics but stunningly transformed his songs. 

Folk Alley Review

Album Review: Gretchen Peters, 'The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury'

by Kelly McCartney. May 13, 2020

No matter the artist on either side of the equation, covering songs is some tricky arithmetic. Everyone and their cousin stepping into John Prine songs for the past month in an attempt to honor him prove that point. If you can't do it better or, at the very least, different, maybe just don't do it. 

That being said, for Gretchen Peters to take on an album of Mickey Newbury songs is an admirable feat. For one, she's a fantastic songwriter, in her own right, so these tunes have a pretty high bar to clear, which they do. For two, she's less of an interpreter, here, than she is an introducer, since it's not hard to imagine that far too many have never heard Newbury's work. Anyone that knows her work, knows that Peters knows her way around a sad sack of songs, so this collection isn't a huge departure, emotionally. Minor is most definitely her favorite key. 

In what may be an unintentional wink toward her own song, “The Matador,” this project opens with a captivating, unhurried take on “The Sailor.” Starting there and continuing on, track after track, Peters and company take their time to let these compositions breathe deeply and fully. But just because the performances are intentionally languid doesn't mean they're at all lazy. Quite the opposite, actually. Take Peters' approach to a single recurring line in “Wish I Was” — “a grain of sand is all I ever wanted to be” — she infuses it with all she has; she just does so gently, but no less potently.

As much as should be made of the vocal performances, equal acclaim should go to Barry Walsh and Will Kimbrough for providing the core soundscape above which Peters floats. Without those trusted musical companions, she might've felt less free to pour herself so fully into the images and emotions that Mickey Newbury sketched in the most indelible of inks.

Gretchen Peters At Liberty Hall, Dublin. 7th Sept 2018

In trying to review a concert from such a special talent, what was shared across the 90 minutes will always lead to thoughts of what was left untouched. The problem for Gretchen Peters is having a body of work that includes so many favourites and so little time! I guess it all comes down to the feeling that it’s not what you leave out, but more what you leave in…What we do get is a beautifully balanced performance with superb musicianship from the talented band that comprises Barry Walsh (accordion, keyboards), Conor McCreanor (Electric & upright bass), Colm McClean (guitars) and Gretchen herself on acoustic guitar. The understated playing is so beautifully realised, always serving the song and adding just enough interplay to allow for the spaces between the notes. Also, the harmony vocals are very strong and augment a vocal performance from Gretchen that shows her voice to be in superb shape, singing from the heart in a honeyed tone that seduces and soars in all the right places...The set tonight leans heavily towards the latest release, Dancing With The Beast and this is fully justified. It remains one of the best albums of 2018 and the current tour is in support of this release. Eight of the eleven album tracks are featured during the show with Truck Stop Angel, The Boy From Rye, Arguing With Ghosts and Disappearing Act all coming from very different places but connecting so poignantly; from surviving in a male dominated World to the loss of innocence and youth; ageing and Alzheimer’s - all the way through to taking the decision to disappear from it all.Gretchen speaks of living with these new songs on tour over recent weeks and says that they have become a supporting band of sisters that accompany her on the road. The new album features songs about females in all different guises and situations, whether dealing with abuse or disillusionment or  deciding to take action and control over their own circumstances.Fragile, yet strong women, some from the margins of society – others the real backbone of middle America in grappling with the reality of trying to rear a family and try to scrape a decent living in a country that has turned mean and spiteful. The references to Trump’s America are veiled behind the stories of the characters in these songs and the ability to endure and maintain dignity is captured with razor like precision in the poetic words of Gretchen as she holds a mirror up to daily constraints and compromise.Say Grace is a key track tonight and the words, ‘the bible on the table says be of good cheer, but the tv in the corner is screaming you’re not welcome here’, resonate as an echo of the malaise within American society right now. Another key line is contained in the words to Lowlands with ‘but a man who lies just for the sake of lying, he will sell you kerosene and call it hope’. Such a vital and honest writer and so much on the pulse of everything that is real. She speaks of the division and suspicion that was instantly present after the General Election result and the caginess of people wondering which side others were now on… All reflected in the song, Lowlands. The Blackbirds release from 2015 gets 2 songs included, with the title track itself and the excellent When All You Got Is A Hammer. There are a further 4 songs from the 2013 release Hello Cruel World and the audience greet Woman On The Wheel, Five Minutes, The Matador and Idlewild like lost children returned to the fold. Earlier in the set there is a Tom Russell song, Guadalupe, which was recorded on their co-release from 2009 and which Gretchen reckons is his most beautiful song. She talks about her coming to Ireland since 1997 (or so) and the fact that her visits are forever wrapped up in memory with the song, On A Bus To Saint Cloud, which she duly performs with a flawless melancholy that would melt the heart of the hardest cynic in the room. The encore is another cover version, this time the Rodney Crowell song Ain’t Living Long Like This. It includes an extended band workout and a duel between Barry Walsh and Colm McClean as they trade licks and runs on their weapons of choice. At one point, Barry even plays the keyboard with his right foot! With the audience giving a standing ovation and fully deserved lengthy applause, Gretchen returns and leaves the stage to stand in front of the crowd to sing Love That Makes A Cup Of Tea. A perfect message of comfort and fellowship upon which to end what was a fine evening of all that is good in live music these days. A masterclass from one of the true greats. Review by Paul McGee ” - Paul McGee

Lonesome Highway - UK

Gretchen Peters live at The lyric theatre, Belfast. Sunday, 9th September, 2018

"Lit by a single spotlight, Gretchen Peters picks a soft refrain as she sings the haunting ‘Arguing With Ghosts’. The song examines the ageing process and one’s own sense of mortality. It sets the scene for a night of impeccably played music, challenging ideas, and a little hope in these troubled times.Gretchen Peters began her musical career writing hits for Patty Loveless, Bryan Adams, and Neil Diamond among others. Producing a number of fine country albums in her own name, her music over the course of the last few albums has seen her move from catchy love songs to more heady matters.Belfast’s Lyric Theatre stage is dressed with the set for ‘Good Vibrations’, a play based on the life of local legend Terri Hooley. Initially the set of a run down city centre with shut shops and graffitied walls is a distraction but strangely, as songs emerge of troubled minds and a land divided by suspicion and racism, the backdrop actually makes sense in a way.I get lost in my hometown since they tore the drive-in down.Arguing With GhostsShe tells us that she began to write the songs on the album on the night of the American election. But rather than angry songs of “Dump Trump”, these are much more considered pieces. She tells of the schisms and distrust that have continued to develop in her country since that night:I come straight home from work and fix my supper. Don’t burn one with my neighbour anymore. Ever since he put that sticker on his bumper, I just turn out the lights and lock the doors.LowlandsThe songs demand attention, as tales of young girls avenging their abused sister, depression, and unrequited love flow from the stage. Peters lets the songs speak for themselves before addressing the audience. She tells us the past few months she has been singing these songs about women, and it has been like touring with “a bunch of sisters”. Her band of three males look a bit sheepish at this point, but their time will come.‘Blackbirds’ gets a call out for Ben Glover as co-writer. Ben has in fact become Gretchen’s partner in a number of compositions, including the gloriously brooding ‘Dancing With The Beast’ and ‘Truckstop Angel’.Barry Walsh is Gretchen’s longtime musical and life partner. He helps move things along apace with little fills of keyboard and atmospheric stints on accordion, which helps give ‘The Matador’ its eerie feel.Two other local men of note are rhythm section Conor McCreanor, and Colm McClean, who dazzles with several superb solos, never detracting from the vocal and the lyric, always inventive and fluid.The pace changes up in volume and speed with an ode to veterans coming back to a world that has moved on without them in ‘When All You Got Is A Hammer’, and the wondrous ‘Woman On The Wall’, where the female protagonist asks us to confront our own failures and fears while watching her own death defying feats:They say I’ve got a death wish, yeah, but I don’t think that’s true. As far as I can see, it’s less about me and more about you. You see it ain’t your fears so much as what your fears reveal. I’m just the woman on the wheel.The majority of the set is comprised from her last three albums. The one major concession to her delightful back catalogue is the haunting ‘Bus To St. Cloud’.The encore is rememberable for two different reasons. The first is a spirited rendition of Rodney Crowell tune, ‘Ain’t Living Long Like This’, which sees Walsh kick his stool backwards, and fly at the keyboard with gusto, which is met by equalling shining solos from the Fender of Colm McClean. This is pure musical theatre at its best, with Little Richard present in spirit in the shape of Barry Walsh.The second reason is very special. Gretchen Peters makes her way to the edge of the stage and delivers a spine-tingling solo version of ‘Love That Makes A Cup Of Tea’. In the hands of someone less adept, such a tittle could be a hackneyed, over-sentimental country and western song.In Gretchen’s voice, it is a thing of pure beauty, leaving the audience with some balm, comfort and hope, in a world full of obstacles. Her voice is soft and you wish she could have sang more songs like this. But which songs would you have given up to make way?Real love does not build walls our make mighty noises about its power. Real love can do huge things and right wrongs. But love that lasts does the little things that help us all get to the next day with hope.But there is love that makes a cup of tea, love that loves both who you are and who you want to be, love that waits for you when you fall behind. That’s the kind of love I hope you find.A perfect message to send us home feeling better about all around us after a truly special night of music.        

Folk and Tumble Review by: Damian McNairney

Link: Setlist for Lyric Theatre Belfast, Belfast, Northern Ireland 9th September, 2018:

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Gretchen Peters 

Venue: The Sage/The Arc 

Town: Gateshead/Stockton, UK 

Date: March 1st/2nd, 2013 

Over the course of two consecutive nights Gretchen Peters played in two towns in North East England; Gateshead and Stockton. Both nights Gretchen's partner and pianist Barry Walsh, and their new band member, Canadian Christine Bougie, came out on stage and played the opening notes of Hello Cruel World, as Gretchen came out onto the stage to rapturous applause. Clearly everyone was glad she was back. At both venues, she spoke of how happy she was to be back in the North East, especially at The Sage, where she said it felt like it had only been two weeks since she'd last been there. There were clearly a few first night nerves on stage, but Gretchen knows as well as we do that there is no safer or forgiving audience for her to have them than at The Sage! By night two at The Arc, however, the nerves were clearly dissipating and everyone was much more relaxed. Clearly touched at the reception her new CD, Hello Cruel World, is receiving, the decision was made to perform for us the whole CD, live, in order. This was a new method of delivery for me, but I felt it worked really well, as it highlights how, remarkably, the songs are even more powerful live. 

As Gretchen dove straight into the title track, it seemed more obvious than ever how personal the song is and this connection continued through the set; it clearly is her most personal and honest - and it has to be said, best - work to date. St Francis brought tears to my eyes as Gretchen's beautiful voice and her guitar were softly accompanied by piano and lapsteel. Barry's accordion and Christine's shakers added a distinctly Spanish flavour to The Matador, before Barry stepped up to offer his vocals to take Rodney Crowell's place in a duet of Dark Angel. I had no idea Barry could sing so well and I was amazed at how well their voices harmonized for this gorgeous song. Paradise Found was clearly made to be performed live and took on a life of its own on both stages, as Gretchen demonstrated how well her voice fits the Southern blues/ gospel sound of the song. The musicianship of the three was extraordinary. Telling us of the origins of the next story (I won't spoil it for those who haven't yet heard it) and how it fit perfectly with her circus obsession, Gretchen explained that the main character in Woman on the Wheel is 1996's Circus Girl, all these years later. Again, as I always felt with Circus Girl, it seemed there was more of Gretchen herself in those lyrics than we may first think. Five Minutes almost didn't make the album but I'm glad it did. It is one of Gretchen's finest pieces of writing, where again she either gets totally into the character's psyche, or is there a part of her in there too? Maybe there is a part of us all in those lyrics, come to think of it. In both instances, the audiences were silent, hanging on her every word, as the piano and lapsteel again weaved effortlessly between her vocals. Camille is a song she wrote on retreat with her Wine Women and Song sisters Matraca Berg and Suzy Bogguss. Gretchen assured us that they have fun on their retreats "though you wouldn't think so from this song!" The emotion in the song seemed to hang in the air, and you could almost be forgiven for thinking Camille was there among us as Gretchen delivered the song 'to her.' 

Gretchen switched from guitar to mandolin for Natural Disaster, creating a sound somewhere between country, folk and bluegrass, which worked brilliantly live. Stepping forward, Gretchen began to talk about her father. I knew he was a writer and journalist, but prior to this CD, I did not know that his beat was The Civil Rights Movement. Gretchen told us about how, after the murder of activist Medgar Evers, his widow and three children came to stay with her family in New York. At the time, her greatest observation was that their youngest son, her age, had never seen snow before, having lived in the Deep South, and his amazement as they built a snowman together. She pointed out how later you see the bigger picture; that actually she was building a snowman with a little boy who had seen his father gunned down in his own driveway, and that in much the same way you see there was more to all the little snippets of memories we keep as children. There couldn't have been a more articulate introduction to, or delivery of, the song that followed, Idlewild. Watching her eyes as she sang, it was clear that these beautiful lyrics, made up of seemingly fragmented recollections and thoughts, are deeply personal. It also got me to wondering how many of us, if we put together some of our seemingly random memories, would come up with a story we weren't expecting. Taking to the piano, where she now shines with confidence - she obviously had a good teacher in Barry! - Gretchen told us that the final song on the CD, Little World, came about at the piano one day and seemed to be the little piece of hope the dark lyrics of the CD needed. Quite simply, it is a song about how, whatever is going on in the world, we can create our own little world, where everything as is we like it. As Gretchen said, 'That is the album.' Huge applause followed, before she commented on how the two musicians on stage with her make her a better musician, and how she would like them to take the stage. The greatest comedic moment of the two nights followed, when at The Sage, she went to leave the stage, and completely lost the door, trying to open the wall. Everyone laughing, Barry made a joke about how he can't get her to leave even when she says she will. At the Arc, when she left, there was a murmur around the room of 'She found the door!' from those who were there the previous night! 

As they took centre stage, Christine, on lapsteel, provided beautiful accompaniment as Barry played a stirring piece from his new piano record, Paradiso, called Koblenz. It was named after the town in Germany where he premiered it and got a great response. He told us he would similarly name a later piece 'Gateshead' but then said the same in Stockton. However, as he said it in Gateshead first, I intend to hold him to it - I eagerly await his third CD; suggested title, 'Gig Venues I have loved.' He really is the most talented pianist I've ever had the privilege to watch; he makes it look effortless as his hands dance across the keys. Gretchen returned, promising to play a few favourites; first she took us back to 1996 with The Secret of Life, telling us how it was written for a man, but then Faith Hill recorded it. Much of the audience could be heard singing along on both occasions. Also, not for the first time, it allowed Christine to show us her talents on electric guitar. 

Speaking of Tom Russell, Gretchen told us how honoured she was to record the next song, Tom's exquisite Guadalupe; a song which I have always felt sounds as if Gretchen could have written it. It also struck me, not for the first time, how lovely it is that she is happy to acknowledge that a song she didn't write has become so popular. Again, Christine's lapsteel and Barry's accordion beautifully captured the Spanish sound of the song. Maybe one day we will get to hear Gretchen and Tom sing it as a duet… 

In keeping with what seems to have become tradition, the nights both concluded all too soon with To Say Goodbye. I can't think of a more fitting song, as I don't think they, or we, were ready to call it a night. 'I'm not leaving, I'm just going..' seemed particularly poignant, knowing how much she loves this area, where she has a history going back sixteen years, to a small gig played to less than 40 people. Several of those people, she commented at The Sage, are "still here, usually in the front row." 

Following much deserved standing ovations both nights, which clearly touched Gretchen, the three returned for an encore. Asking us if we would sing with them, she announced "This one's for Davy (Jones)" before they launched into a rocking rendition of Last Train to Clarksville. It had only just been worked up the first afternoon, so was a little rough around the edges. I suspect that night Davy, wherever he is, was laughing at proceedings, whilst at The Arc he was likely singing along with us all! 

Barry's now legendary piano introduction marked the beginning of two beautiful performances of the gorgeous On a Bus To St Cloud, the song which Gretchen always says took on a life of its own here in the UK. The three took their final bows and twice left the stage to huge applause, having indeed - to paraphrase To Say Goodbye - gone, but not left, since we were all taking away wonderful memories of two fantastic nights shared with three amazing people. For almost two magical hours, we together created our own Little World, between the stage and the venue door; a world of music, emotion, sharing, enjoyment and appreciation. Undoubtedly we were all wishing for Five Minutes more, but if I know one thing, it is this. Gretchen Peters means every word when she says she will be back to the North East very soon; that is the promise that our beloved Circus Girl has kept for sixteen years. 

- Helen Mitchell