blackbirdsGretchen Peters – Blackbirds (2015)

The grit in Gretchen Peters’ songs can be lost if you polish them up too much (ahem, 2012’s Hello Cruel World), and with a few opening bars of crunchy guitar, Blackbirds declares itself as anything but Cruel World II.

It’s the same team that made Cruel World, but you’d be excused for thinking otherwise. Cruel World was lush and melancholic. Blackbirds is bold and brassy, a daring departure for Peters, who said after Cruel World that “Woman On the Wheel is the closest to rock you’ll hear from me.”

But rock on she does, with judicious use of spiky guests (we hear you Jason Isbell & Kim Richey) and crafty triumphs of electric guitar, fiddle, piano, mandolin, and banjo. And Peters, fresh off her well-earned induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, gives a career-high vocal performance that, mea culpa, I didn’t think was there.

Blackbirds seems to have inspired all to pour out every ounce of heart, soul and skill they could muster. I’m impressed.