Gretchen Peters/Kim Richey, Edinburgh Queen’s Hall, May 22, 2018
If, as I (respectfully) observed, Gretchen Peters’ latest album should have been sub-titled Eleven tales of heartbreak and loss from the American heartlands, then the evening should have been billed as ‘an evening with two of the finest singer-songwriters America has to offer.’ I guess there’s only so much space on posters, and it was slightly galling to arrive midway through Ms. Richey’s set, thanks to the latest set of roadworks in Edinburgh conspiring to make getting anywhere on time near impossible. Hey ho…
Just accompanied by her acoustic guitar, Kim Richey’s set drew on her latest album, Edgeland (spoiler alert: it’s very good indeed). She get’s a laugh from the audience when she tells us about a four year old God daughter she has in England whose favourite track is ‘Chase Wild Horses’ – which features the line ‘Things I’ve done that I ain’t proud of‘ – ‘you’re four years old! What could you possible have done that you aren’t proud of?!’ She’s collaborated with her friend Chuck Prophet on a couple of songs on the album ‘Pin A Rose’ and ‘Whistle On Occasion’ which get an airing too. Given that she has a full band backing on the album, in lesser hands the performance might have suffered, but she has the flair to make this work.
Walking on stage to perform ‘Arguing With Ghosts,’ the album opener from her latest album Dancing With The Beast, there’s something that strikes the listener as to the magnificent melancholia within her music. It’s not like the bleak melancholia that you hear in, say, Mogwai’s music, but a bittersweet melancholia that reaches the ears even before a single note has been sung. Yes Ms. Peters breaks your heart, but in oh such a lovely way. Going straight into ‘Wichita’ we visit the tale of the twelve year old who gets her revenge on her abusive step-father. This is Greek tragedy as played out in the American heartlands and utterly compelling it is, too.
This is a counterpoint to Peters’ stage presence, which is like those occasions you are given a welcome, warm hug by someone you have never met before. She chuckles, telling us the take of someone who a few nights ago had asked her to sign his copy of the album and commented how sad it was – ‘we’ve already had two deaths!’ she observes, barely three songs in.
As might be expected, most of the songs are drawn from the new record, though there are also nods to Hello Cruel World (‘The Matador’) and Blackbirds (the title track). During ‘Lowlands’ I find myself quietly brushing a tear away, when she sings about no longer talking with her neighbour since they put that sticker on their bumper. Sometimes what you don’t say or just infer is just as powerful as what you do, and this reference to how Trump’s America finds itself utterly divided is stunningly powerful.
She brings on Kim Richey to add vocals for a number of the songs, including particularly affecting versions of ‘Say Grace’ and ‘Dancing With The Beast’. It’s interesting to note how these songs live take on a whole new resonance – and that’s from what are often pretty damn fine collections of songs on record. Yet perhaps the most affecting part of the evening is when by herself, just an acoustic guitar and no microphone she closes with ‘Love That Makes A Cup Of Tea.’ It’s beautifully intimate and a lovely closer to a fine night.