by Roy Peak
Vanessa Peters latest endeavor is an album of fun rock songs played by an ace crack band recorded in four countries during a worldwide pandemic. And for being recorded in such a haphazard manner, it sounds clear and fantastic. This warm and punchy recording leapt out of the new Pioneer speakers I recently installed in my old work van. I felt like a teenager again, blasting the songs while flying down the highway! If that ain't praise, well...
I first heard Peters with her album Foxhole Prayers, which was jangly and rocking, but it was her all covers album, Mixtape, which set the bar a bit higher in that she took a few chances and it paid off well. So what about the songs on this new album? I'll say that so far I like this album better than her last two, so there is that.
Peters is a bit like Jonathan Richman in that she writes about things that most of us take for granted. Richman's "Old World" has become Peters' "Modern Age," in that it's a song about the way things have changed—not always for the better—and it rocks out, it doesn't whine or bemoan the present, just makes its case for a better, simpler time and moves on. Check out the bluesy slinkiness of "Valley of Ashes" or the poppy "Crazymaker"—all songs to shimmy down the road with, but then there's "Yes," which ups the ante with a song about not giving up and never forgetting. The way she sings through gritted teeth, you get the feeling that Peters isn't ready to back down from any more transgressions. This song comes from a balled up fist inside her heart.
"Hood Ornament" is about being a woman in a man's world, but it's also much more than that. It's about trying your hardest and constantly seeing those ahead of you who got there by taking the shortcut unavailable to yourself. Some folks work extra hard, only to be surpassed by the entitled, the ones who don't even know how easy they have it. The ones who got to the top without paying their dues, who still find a way to look down on you after all your hard work.
I don't usually read other reviews of albums that I'm planning on writing about but I did happen on one where the reviewer spent too much time nit-picking Peters' vocals and lyrics, as well as the overall production of the album. It wasn't "bluesy" enough, she should have sung it like a different singer, the band is "too pasteurized." Well, Peters isn't Patti Smith, or Billie Holiday, she's more like Liz Phair meets Amy Rigby with a hint of Amanda Platt, while her band is part glam rock, part 1980s "too indie for MTV" but in a good way.
I don't think that reviewer gets the point about this music. Plenty of bands rock out without being bluesy. (The Velvet Underground, for just one example.) Peters' lyrics are plain truth rock 'n' roll, not pretend poetry. This music is rock 'n' roll, affectively filtered through the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, with a touch of the very modern Peters' lyrical and cultural viewpoints. This is a good album of significant songs, played with passion and grit by all involved. You know, the kind of stuff we need more of lately.
Roy Peak is Sacred Chickens' Music Editor. He has played electric bass in more bands than he cares to remember for more years than he can remember. He wrote the theme song for the Utica, New York radio show "Hey You Kids, Get Off My Lawn" on WPNR-FM. His solo debut album, All Is Well, has been called "Loud, cacophonous, and beautiful by a truly unique artist" or check out his latest album, A Wolf at the Door. His short fiction has been published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and he writes music reviews for the King Tut Vintage Album Museum of Jacksonville. Roy writes music reviews for the Rocking Magpie among others.