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Gretchen Peters

The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury – 2020 (Scarlet Letter)

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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CDs by Gretchen Peters

Gretchen Peters' tribute to Mickey Newbury is a 12-song labor of love, which makes the strong case to never forget the works of this songwriting master. Peters, who has said her mother initially turned her on to Newbury's music, dedicates this album to her mom because she "loved Mickey's sad songs almost more than mine."

With that said, though, not all these songs are particularly sad. One of Newbury's most famous songs is "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)," which takes on added resonance with the passing of Kenny Rogers, who had a breakthrough hit with the piece back when he fronted the First Edition. Although guitarist Will Kimbrough gives this new version a gently rocking guitar groove, it's still a far cry from the groovy psychedelic rocker famously included on the soundtrack to "The Big Lewbowski." The song's lyric is not so much unhappy, as it is trippy.

Peters who, like Newbury, is better known as a songwriter than a performer, sings these personal favorites especially well. In addition to Kimbrough, she's joined by a few other famous names (including Buddy Miller and Kim Richey), but none of her collaborators distract from this being a highly personal effort.

Her version of "The Night You Wrote That Song" is beautifully melancholy and highlighted by Dan Dugmore's sweet country pedal steel guitar and waltzing rhythm, and just a touch of piano. Many of Newbury's songs ("An American Trilogy," made famous by Elvis, comes immediately to mind) were borderline epics, compared to the typical three-minute or so country song. "The Night You Wrote That Song," though, evidences how Newbury could also write wonderful, more concise songs, as well.

Peters closes with "Three Bells For Stephen," which seemingly addresses Newbury's sad songwriting life head on. "On those lonely nights I could find no sleep/I'd unlock my heart and soul on strings and ivory keys," state one of the song's verses. Peters seemingly also uses the opening lines to draw attention to Newbury's artistic greatness as though she's pleading with us to please not forget the songs/gifts he left us. "Do you remember me, dear hearts and gentle people," it begins, as though we could actually ever forget the great man. It's sung slowly and sincerely, like a benediction, while filling our hearts with great appreciation for Mr. Newbury.