Informed by the renewed strength of today's woman's movement, particularly in light of recent cultural social and political upheavals, Gretchen Peters' "Dancing With the Beast" finds her sharing stories about loss, struggle, upheaval, tragedy and turmoil in ways that resonate with a common bond, though told from a woman's perspective. It's a powerful set of songs, mostly echoing a downcast perspective, but each comes across with both enlightenment and emotion, often in the most uncommon ways. Indeed, it's all but impossible not to be affected by Peters' impacting infusion of sentiment and sobriety.
Peters is, of course, a seasoned songwriter, and her resume includes material recorded by such notables as Martina McBride, Etta James, Trish Yearwood, Patty Loveless, George Strait, and numerous other members of the Nashville elite. Yet it's never more indelible than when it's presented by Peters herself, given the grace and conviction she invests in her songs. Whether conveying the material with the easy lope of opening track "Arguing with Ghosts," the steady swagger imbued in "Wichita" or the subtle shimmer that echoes through "The Boy from Rye," Peters puts a piercing perspective into these compelling story songs.
There's the regret and remorse shared by the woman who loses her sons to war and her husband to a sudden demise in "Disappearing Act," the suppressed housewife on the edge of despair that shares her sad scenario in the title track, the lonely heroine at the heart of "Lowlands" and the dire desperation described by a so-called "Truckstop Angel" and woman of the night. Yet, from each of these heroines come affecting tales told by individuals who have little choice, but to continue striving for survival.
As sad as this seems, Peters ultimately finds redemption in the coda, "Love That Makes a Cup of Tea," a song that celebrates the simple joy of giving and sharing in ways that are often the least perceived. A remarkable description of perseverance and promise, even in the fact of adversity, "Dancing With the Beast" offers heartfelt lessons about resilience and resolve.
Lee Zimmerman is a freelance writer based in Maryville, Tenn. He also expounds on music on his web site, Stories Beyond the Music - Americana Music Reviews, Interviews & Articles.