Where do you go after releasing the universally acclaimed Blackbirds, The AMA’s 2015 Album of the Year, with it’s exploration of mortality and the depths of human darkness? The answer became clear as Gretchen Peters started writing for her eighth studio album in 2017, the year of The Women’s March and the rise of the #MeToo movement: women. Each of Dancing With The Beast’s 11 songs have female protagonists. Peters notes that it had been “very easy to kind of go to sleep for for a while and just not think about that stuff because we were lulled into complacency for eight years”.
Lowlands is the most overtly political song Peters has ever written. With a heavy drone of synths and drums and no chorus, it evokes the feeling as a storm rolls in, it’s claustrophobic and gloomy with the threat of danger rumbling through it. It’s unlike anything Peters has created before and yet retains her innate sense of beauty.
Geography and Tales Of The South play an important part in Peters’ storytelling. In Wichita, she used the same technique developed with co-writer Ben Glover for Blackbirds, unravelling the story of a girl who sings “I hope I was the last thing that you saw that night in Wichita”, as a mystery to be solved. Boy From Rye again focuses on the story of girls on the cusp of adulthood as they go through the rite of passage that is first love, interwoven with the depressingly relatable first brush with objectification and the pitting of women against each other. In Truckstop Angel the piano comes to the fore, for a song about a prostitute working a truckstop in Alabama. You can imagine her singing, in a dive bar at the end of a long night working, refusing to be defeated. It manages to be both seedy and beautiful.
In opening track Arguing With Ghosts we meet an older woman, ruminating on her life and the passage of time. Simultaneously sweet and sad with a gentle guitar picking out the melody, lyrically it’s classic Peters with its wistful turns of phrase like “The years go by like days, sometimes the days go by like years, and I don’t know which one I hate the most”.
Although not as in-your-face feminist as Margo Price’s 2017 All American Made, In Dancing With The Beast Gretchen Peters has delivered another vital dose of country music perfection whose magical songcraft feels entirely personal and yet manages to embrace how it feels to be a woman today. It’s sweet, painful, beautiful, dark, funny and heartbreaking; there is no doubt at all that Peters deserves her place in the Country Music Hall of Fame.