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Gretchen Peters and Tom Russell
One to the Heart, One to the Head

Review By Steven Stone
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  Putting together a collection of songs about the West isn't exactly a new idea. Yet in the hands of two accomplished songwriters, assembling and performing a cohesive set of songs changes from a hackneyed concept to a revelatory act. Gretchen Peters and Tom Russell know exactly what it takes to write a great song. Peters' "Independence Day" won the CMA Song Of The Year award in 1995, and she's written hits for Martina McBride, Patty Loveless, George Strait, and Faith Hill. Tom Russell's credentials include ASCAP's "Most Performed Country Song" award for "Outbound Plane" in 1992, and The Folk Song Alliance's 2008 Song of The Year title for "Who's Gonna Build Your Wall." He's also worked with Ian Tyson, Nancy Griffith, and Dave Alvin.

But just because you can write a great song doesn't mean you can perform with equal aplomb. Peters and Russell dispel any doubts about their performing chops on the very first tune, Mary McCaslin's "Prairie in the Sky." Their rendition is so full of pathos that it should have a disclaimer, such as the kind you find on the sides of cigarette packages, to the effect that if you have suicidal tendencies you might not want to listen to the whole CD at one sitting. Tunes by well-know scribes such as Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, Ian Tyson, and Rosalie Sorrels join songs by lesser-known writers such as Stephanie Davis, Nan O'Byrne, Barry Walsh, and Rebecca Folsom to create a bleak view of the American West that certainly won't make it onto Hallmark cards any time soon. Their version of Rebecca Folsom's tune, "If I Had A Gun," which also contains the lyrics for the title of the CD, contrasts with Folsom's own version which can be found on her collaboration album with Celeste Krenz, Girls Like Us. Peter's lead vocals are more plaintive and less angry, more resigned and mournful, than Folsom's rendition. Russell's backing guitar parts convey an otherworldly quality that enhances the song's ethereal aura.

Tom Russell's own description of One to the Heart, One to the Head sums up the emotional power of the CD. "It sounds like the West I long for… ancient, whispering, parched, desolate, bushwhacked, half-drunk, windswept and crazy… crazy with memorable ghosts."

 

 

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