THE lactose and gluten intolerant Nashville-based country singer songwriter Gretchen Peters couldn’t help commenting on the name of the venue her agent had chosen for her Cambridge Folk Festival warm up – Frome’s Cheese and Grain – but the room’s history did nothing to prevent her and her excellent band performing a sensational set to a packed audience.
It’s been a big British year for Gretchen, whose February released album Blackbirds whizzed from the country charts to the main pop lists, and stayed there.
The secret of her success, she said in Frome, was to wait til she was in her 50s, release a tenth album and make death its subject!
Certainly Blackbirds has its share of doom – the title track is a story of family abuse and murder, and it includes tales of the hopeless inability of returning war vets to think of anything but killing and of the anguish of those in hospices and their families and friends.
Gretchen is known for the cinematic scope of her songs, and she treated her Somerset audience to some of the best, from the psychologically insightful Matador and Woman on the Wheel (here beefed up as a rock number) to the poignant vignette of Five Minutes, Bus to St Cloud and of course her “greatest hit” Independence Day.
With husband and MD Barry Walsh’s keyboards and evocative accordion, Christine Bougie on percussion, lead guitar and lap steel and Irish bassist Conor McCreanor, this was a memorable night for everyone. And several of the audience intended to drive to Cambridge the next day to try to get a ticket for Gretchen’s afternoon set.