Gretchen Peters at St George’s, Bristol

IT’S a real treat to turn up to a concert by a favourite artist and discover that you are part of a live recording – and so it was for the audience at St George’s in Bristol on Good Friday.

The Nashville-based songwriter, with her bandleader, arranger and husband Barry Walsh and this time accompanied also by the (Scottish) Southern Fried String Quartet, made a quick return to the venue, celebrated for its excellent, warm acoustic, to record versions of songs from the back catalogue with the added dimension of strings.

Mostly it was hugely enjoyable, intensifying the mood and underlining Gretchen’s extraordinary lyrics, painting visceral pictures of backroads America and the families who live, drive and love in the less publicised regions.

I have never heard Idlewild, a song about generational pressures on the day of JFK’s assassination, more powerfully performed. But my personal preference would still be The Matador with Barry Walsh’s evocative accordion backing, rather than the strings.

The constraints of the recording meant less of the singer’s repartee with the audience, no political references and a tighter format, but that was more than outweighed by a brilliant set that encompassed some of her early songs as well as tracks from the two most recent albums, Blackbirds and Dancing with the Beast. Wichita, Arguing with Ghosts and Five Minutes again demonstrated was vivid, cinematic pictures this songwriter can conjure.

As I left, the man in front of me was loudly explaining to his audience neighbours what it meant to be a REAL, TRUE fan. I don’t think many of those listening in the packed St George’s needed any advice on that subject.


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