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There’s a bittersweet beauty to the passing of time — the changes it brings are just as often heartbreaking as they are heartwarming. The inevitable tension that arises from that sway is Gretchen Peters’ most trusted muse. “The years go by like days. Sometimes the days go by like years. And I don’t know which one I hate the most,” she sings in “Arguing with Ghosts,” the hauntingly wistful opening cut on her new album, Dancing with the Beast.
Between the melody and the melancholy, the song sets the tone for all that is to come after and lifts the album over the high artistic bar set by her last outing, 2015’s award-winning Blackbirds. Written with Matraca Berg and Ben Glover, “Arguing with Ghosts” began, as so many songs do, with one small grain of inspiration. “I think we were initially talking about how Nashville is changing, and Matraca said, ‘I get lost in my hometown,’” Peters recalls. “And we went from there. Of course, it took on much more meaning, but I think that our starting point was just that sense of disorientation.”
Whether a single sentence or a simple setting, once planted, even the tiniest seed can grow into a vision unto itself. Strung together and populated with strong and broken female heroines, those vignettes make up Dancing with the Beast and, indeed, Peters’ entire discography. “The pictures and the details come first, and I think that’s kind of necessary because they’re sort of like little bombs of emotion,” she says. “It’s like when you pull out a Polaroid that you haven’t seen in 25 years, and your heart just kind of explodes because it brings back a whole world.”