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The title Okra and Ecclesiastes comes from a line in My People Come From the Dirt, which is the first song on Grant Peeples’ new album. The song sounds like it’s going to be one of those country pride songs. The classic song of this type is I Was Country (When Country Wasn’t Cool). But this isn’t an anthem of redneck pride; rather, Peeples portrays his people in a realistic light, as people who live unglamorous lives, but who make the best of it. There is a sense of solidarity. For the rest of the album, Peeples expands on this theme. He presents these kinds of people in contemporary and historical settings, as well as in folklore. Some songs are about others, while some are personal songs in the first person. Finally, although the title must seem unlikely, Peeples closes with High Fructose Corn Syrup, which proves to be a closing prayer and amen. Peeples tells all of this with both humor and sympathy.
Grant Peeples plays acoustic guitar. Add drums, bass, electric and acoustic guitar, and keyboards. There are also male and female background vocals, and accordion on a few songs, as well as pedal steel. So some songs sound like rock, others have a mix of electric and acoustic instruments and sound more country, and still other songs are mostly acoustic. Peeples’ voice is a gravelly baritone, and he half sings, half speaks his way through these songs. Both in the vocals and the instrumental sounds, this is by no means pretty music. This music has dust, sweat, and cigarette smoke coursing through it. But that suits Peeples’ songs perfectly. Peeples’ voice would seem to be a limited instrument, but he knows exactly how to use it. He is passionate on Powerlines, loving on That Kinda Woman and Empty Cup, and on John L and Helen and Cowboy Gothic he plays the storyteller who is more affected by his subject matter than he wants to be. He never raises his voice, going only from quiet conversation to a cracked whisper. But he covers a remarkable emotional range.
These are the songs of a man who has lived a bit. Peeples has seen love fade. He sees the relative importance of things through the eyes of someone who is well beyond the zeal of his youth. And he can appreciate small miracles in a way that comes with experience. So It’ll Never Be Love Again describes a couple who realize that they are no longer in love, but decide that they can live with that. Cowboy Gothic feels like it takes place in the old West, and it tells of a curious incident with out offering an explanation; it is enough to hear what happened. Elisabeth sounds like a paean to a woman the narrator has loved, but he is trying to live with the idea that they can never be more than friends. Powerlines finds two people, each married to someone else, having an affair; the song does not give all of the details, because it doesn’t have to.
And that is perhaps the key to what Makes Peeples such a good writer. He is a master of omission. He leaves out details for his listeners to fill in as needed, but he focuses only on the aspects of situations that he wants to talk about. This could be frustrating in the hands of a lesser writer, but Peeples makes it work beautifully. Okra and Ecclesiastes is both a wide ranging and a tightly focused set of songs, and an album that I can see getting more and more out of with repeated listening.
Grant Peeples: Powerlines
Grant Peeples: Cowboy Gothic