Hello Cruel World
You don’t live this long without regrets
Telephone calls you don’t wanna get
Stones you’d rather leave unturned
but ooooooh – the grain of sand becomes the pearl
yeah ooooooh – hello cruel world
These words from the title cut of Hello Cruel World sum it up, really. Though there’s joy and beauty in the world, there’s brokenness, too, and you can’t write it out of the script. You might start out pretending that the dark side of life won’t touch you, that you’ll live life on your own terms, but at some point along the way, the phone does ring, the stone does get turned over.
As we mature (or should I say if we mature?), we find ourselves coming to terms with the real world and loving it in spite of, if not because of, the parts we would have opted out of had we been given the choice. As the song says:
me I’m gonna stick around
in for a penny in for a pound
cause I hate to miss the show
and ooooooh – I’m a very stubborn girl
yeah ooooooh – hello cruel world
The world Ms. Peters sings about may be less than perfect, but it’s hard to find something out of place as you listen to the record. Ms. Peters (guitar), husband Barry Walsh (keyboards) and Doug Lancio (guitars) produced, employing a stellar group of additional musicians including Will Kimbrough (anything with strings), Viktor Krauss (bass), John Gardner (drums and percussion), Chris Carmichael (violin and viola) and David Henry (cello). Byron House plays bass on one song and Vinnie Ciesielski delivers some amazing trumpet work on Camille, a song co-written by Wine Women & Song cohorts Suzy Bogguss and Matraca Berg. Tom Russell co-writes one song as well, but the other songs are all Ms. Peters.
In an exchange after my first listen to the record, Ms. Peters said that Hello Cruel World is her manifesto. Quite a manifesto, I’d say. Too many of us draw conclusions about our world based on generalizations and rationalizations. A more sound approach is to live into the world as it is, letting it be what it is without trying too hard to make it fit our view of what it should be. One of the roles of the conscientious artist is to help us understand this. Disciplined, intentional observation by the artist (the easier part) along with her faithful transcription (the harder part) can help us see the world with all its texture and layers. When the artist happens to have a voice as strong as Ms. Peters and the tools available to her to lay all out for us, something special can happen.
Hello Cruel World is full of great songs. A fine example is Five Minutes, a five-minute song about an everywoman considering her life and the life of her teenage daughter in the context of a smoke break at the diner where she works. As Ms. Peters says in a blog entry, “I know this woman. I see her in line at the grocery store, pouring coffee at a diner, stopped at a traffic light at rush hour. Part of me pities her, part of me admires her, part of me is her.” In the Tom Russell co-write, St. Francis, we are confronted with the reality of the guy behind that stone statue in the garden – maybe he wouldn’t be such a welcome guest in your house? Kim Richey adds harmonies to this one, and it’s one of the prettiest songs on the record. Rodney Crowell joins Ms. Peters for a duet on Dark Angel, a song about human rather than heavenly angels. You’d listen to these two sing the phone book, but with this kind of material they are so good.
A complete observation of the world by a performing artist should probably address the relationship between the one on stage and the one in the audience. Ms. Peters comes at that from each perspective in Woman On The Wheel and The Matador. The former is narrated by a woman on one of those wheels that spins while a man throws knives at her, giving us one of my favorite lines from the record: “You’re thinkin’ one false move and it’s a real bad day at the amusement park.” In The Matador, our narrator is a woman on the second row, not sure if she’s cheering for him or the bull. The video is here:
After several listens to the record, the title track remains my favorite. I don’t know when I’ve heard a song that well put together. There are a lot of moving parts musically, yet they all sound exactly like they should, as if this is the only way the song could have been recorded. The lyrics are smart, and Ms. Peters sings the song like someone who’s actually had the phone call or turned over the stone and lived to tell the tale. Bravo!
Hello Cruel World will be released on Scarlet Letter Records later this month.
You can follow Mando Lines on Twitter @mando_lines. Gretchen Peters is on Twitter, too: @gretchenpeters.