They say that you’re only as good as your last album and the latest release from Gretchen Peters doesn't just match the high standard of her previous work, it surpasses it by a mile. Quite simply Dancing With The Beast is a modern masterpiece and a phenomenal coup for Peters as a songwriter. She's known for writing about the darker side of life, and this album is certainly no exception: depression, death, child abuse, murder, prostitution, it’s all there. Far from being a gloomy listen, Peters’ lyrics are beautifully poetic even at their bleakest, and sometimes they get pretty dark. But did you expect a writer who came to the fore by penning a song about leaving an abusive relationship, to start seeing the world through rose-tinted specs?
Over the course of the album, Peters takes us on a very human journey, full of vulnerability, strength, fragility and hope. This is a record where every word counts, and every spacious musical phrase leads to capturing emotion in a way that many songwriters attempt, but few achieve.
Wichita earns points for dealing with the uneasy subject of child abuse and murder. Jerry Douglas' Dobro looms over the track, cranking up the dread and tension before our heroine takes revenge. Truckstop Angel focuses on a reluctant prostitute. Here the frankness of the lyrics is matched by the haunting piano that heightens the hopelessness of her situation. Dancing with the Beast tackles the unpredictable nature of depression in an almost romantic way, and The Boy From Rye draws on the pains of a spring awakening. Disappearing Act is one of the many highlights of the record and also deserves to be singled out for its near genius observations on life and death.
It’s not all doom and gloom; there are some shafts of light on the album in the final section. There are songs about love in all its guises, second chances and stepping back from the chaos. These are once again delivered with the same insightful observations we have come to expect from Peters.
There’s a very feminine feel to the album regarding the characters which adds to its power and cohesion. Regardless of which gender Peters chooses to focus on, her music is like removing a layer of skin to reveal what goes on underneath the surface, and that's her gift.
Dancing With The Beast is a stunning album, and you’d be hard-pressed to find another record that's quite as poignant in the next 12 months. If there's any justice, it should clean up come award season.
Groupie rating 5/5