State of Grace
Review by Steven Stone
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CD Stock Number: Compass Records 7 4315 2
Pierce Pettis writes good songs, good southern songs.
State of Grace, his sixth release, displays both his songwriting mastery and his performing expertise. The title cut "State of Grace" has poignant lyricism combined with an anthemic quality that is totally captivating. Here's an example of his elegant lyrics "Oh I hear the call of the whippoorwill as the moonlight falls over cotton fields. And if I die before I wake, I will lay me down in a state of grace."
Eleven of the thirteen songs on State of Grace are written or co-written by Pettis. Only Mark Heard's "Rise from the Ruins", and Bob Dylan's "Down in the Flood" break the run of all-original material. Both are more than merely "covers". The Dylan tune comes off sounding like a freshly discovered Robert Johnson blues tune, complete with driving bass line, rustic finger-picking, and gritty slide guitar.
State of Grace is anything but a solo effort. Pettis is joined by Lynn Williams on drums, Gary West on bass, Tim O'Brien on mandolin and bouzouki, Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Colin Linden on electric and slide guitar, Clive Gregson on Hammond B-3, John R. Barr on piano, Alison Brown on banjo, Claire Lynch, Gordon Kennedy, and Jonell Moser on harmony vocals. Producer Gary West and engineer Dave Sinko envelope Pettis' songs in a rich natural sonic aura that is clean without sounding too slick or over-processed. Even the packaging is special, with delicate balance between rustic primitiveness and sophisticated graphics.
Anyone who says that good songwriting is a lost art should listen to State of
Grace. Pierce Pettis is among a select few who still know how to write a song that means something.
Sound Quality: 90