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Pierce Pettis
That Kind of Love

Review By Steven Stone
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  Pierce Pettis proves that you can be an emotionally powerful singer and songwriter without being a wimp. His ninth release features some of his strongest work to date. It's full of unforgettable characters and touching stories documented in a musical and mesmerizing way. It's been four years since Pettis' last Compass Records release, Great Big World. During this interim he's accumulated an album's worth of new material that pushes further into his own musical center. "I think this album is more song-centered." Pettis says, "Each track feels quite unique to me and stands solidly on its own."  Seven of the twelve tracks are Pettis originals, but his choice of covers is equally revealing. Woody Guthrie's "Pastures of Plenty" joins Robert Vega's "Veracruz," Jessie Winchester's "Talk Memphis," Greta Larson's "To Dance," and Mark Heard's "Nothing But The Wind." Even Guthrie's anthemic masterpiece feels like an introspective inner journey in Pettis' hands. Unlike earlier generations of folk singers who were outwardly directed, intent on making large political and social statements, Pettis concentrates on internal dialogues and how they impact the outer world.  At the same time he manages to avoid the sort of self-centered navel-gazing of many contemporary singer-songwriters. Take Pettis' tune "Something For The Pain;" it combines a haunting melody with striking lyrics that cut right to the center of the modern human condition.

Pettis voice isn't as striking or individualistic as many pop vocalists but he never fails to deliver a song's lyrics with maximum impact. Even on tunes that are strongly linked with their original creators, such as Jessie Winchester's "Talk Memphis," Pettis makes the song his own through his phrasing and the simple back-up orchestration. Although That Kind of Love features top-tier accompanying musicians including Stuart Duncan and Andrea Zonn on strings and Kenny Malone on percussion, the arrangements are notable for their restraint rather than their virtuosic excesses. The lead instrument on every song is Pettis' voice and the song's lyrics. Producer Garry West and engineer Erick Jaskowiak use Compass Records' sonically superb studio facilities to make an album whose sonics are as understated and tasteful as the backing musicians' contributions.

Contemporary adult folk music from mature and accomplished performers often tumbles into the dimly lit regions of semi-popularity, overshadowed by younger and more insistent musical voices clamoring for attention.  But Peirce Pettis' latest album is so powerful and fully realized that all but the shallowest listeners will be moved by its perfection.

 

 

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