Gretchen Peters is one of those Nashville songwriters who seems to have that magic touch – much of what she writes feels instantly classic and timeless. Paired with her smoky, lived-in voice, and sweetly soulful delivery, her sound is bewitching. Her latest release, titled The Essential Gretchen Peters, is just that: essential. An assortment of rarities and favorites from her impressive 20-year career, it spans a range of emotions and stories that appeals to both longtime fans looking to add to their collection, and newer listeners who are getting a first taste.
Effortlessly moving between dark and light, Peters brings heavy menace on “Blackbirds” and then glistening delicacy on “Aviator’s Song”. While pretty, the arrangements on the latter as well as “Secret of Life” are synthy, like 1980s pop. It can be a bit off-putting, especially when Peters nails it on her bluesy and folky stuff. These instrumental choices cheapen otherwise classic Americana songwriting. And considering Peters includes a collaboration with Bryan Adams (“When You Love Someone”), there is bound to be some sap. Regardless, Peters’ voice is heavenly.
With two discs of material, there are skippable tracks, depending on your taste. For those looking for a rootsy vibe, her duet with Tom Russell titled “Guadalupe”, will hit the spot. It’s a gorgeous, shimmering ballad with a hypnotic melody. “Hello Cruel World” follows suit, a song that captures the beauties in flaws and features some of Peters’ smoothest vocals.
Her duet with Ben Glover on a different version of “Blackbirds” is a stunner, mixing her sweetness with his rasp. And a couple of versions of the gritty, low-down beauty “Five Minutes” are standouts. Songs like these are proof of Peters’ divine songwriting talent, at times poetic and at times like an intimate sliver of her diary.
This is a romantic record with a little something for most, and reassurance that Peters is essential.