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Gretchen Peters

Blackbirds – 2015 (Scarlet)

Reviewed by Michael Rampa

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CDs by Gretchen Peters

Like many artists, Gretchen Peters turned to music in a time of pain for her eighth studio release, "Blackbirds." This 11-track collection is a graceful, yet unsubtle take on aging and mortality that is often dark and even unsettling. Black crows witness a murder amidst kerosene and fire in the title cut, and elsewhere, there are odes to the BP oil spill and the Nashville flood.

During the summer of 2013, when Peters began writing songs for "Blackbirds, I attended three memorial services and a wedding," she said. "It dawned on me that this is the way things go as you get older - the memorial services come with alarming frequency, and the weddings are infrequent and thus somehow more moving.

As much as she tries to finesse the pains of death and aging, there are really no breaks from the heavy handedness, and the album feels like a 30 plus minute bludgeoning of melancholy.

The midway point is a perfect spot for something light hearted, but there is no relief from lament on the second half as she tackles a soldier's PTSD on "When All You Got Is A Hammer." Its release couldn't have been more coincidentally timed with Eddie Ray Routh now on trial for the murder of sniper Chris Kyle. The ache in her voice is primal as she wails on "The Pain Is The Pain."

The chorus to "Everything Falls Away" reads,
I went down to the sea to look for you
And found the moon and the Milky Way
Watch the tide take back what it gave to me
Everything falls away

Sonically, the album from the newly minted Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famer and writer of "Independence Day," is crisp and clear thanks to co-producers Doug Lancio and Barry Walsh.

Astronomers still do not know what the "dark matter" in the universe is. Peters seems to have a pretty good handle on it.