For her new album, Gretchen Peters ended up going where, in her estimation, none of her female songwriting peers really had.
is a set that unflinchingly confronts aging, and it's haunted by loss and death.
"You're not supposed to specifically talk about aging, ever," the 57-year-old songwriter's songwriter says over the phone from her Nashville home. "You're either not supposed to talk about it and try to look as young as you can, or go away. That's the message that women, especially in the entertainment business, get.
"I've done my best work, I think, by going to the places that scare me a little bit, and that was definitely one of them."
Peters has had commercial success writing for country stars without compromising her artistic vision - most notably with "Independence Day," a song about domestic abuse that became a smash for Martina McBride, and a feminist anthem. In typical Peters fashion, Blackbirds is exquisitely crafted and profoundly moving. But with sentiments such as "The cure for the pain is the pain," it's not exactly the female equivalent of bro-country.
"There's not a whole lot I can do about it," Peters says of her creative process. "The songs that come out, I judge them primarily just by which ones feel like the best songs and really resonate for me.
"I was also very much encouraged by the response to my last album [2012's Hello Cruel World], which was fairly dark, as well. I felt there was this groundswell of people saying, 'Gosh, I'm glad somebody said that.' . . . There is a certain portion of the population of music fans out there that are really hungry for a little hard truth, and those are the people I'm really playing for, anyway."
Last year, Peters was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
"It was the biggest single honor I have or probably ever will receive," says the singer-songwriter, who grew up in the suburbs of New York City and in Boulder, Colo. "Despite having really gone my own way pretty much from the time I got here, I also really wanted to be a part of this community. So that was the ultimate gesture of acceptance, and it felt wonderful."
And there was something that made the honor even sweeter for Peters:
"I was going into the hall of fame, and yet I felt I was doing my best work right now. . . . What a position to be in.
"It's been quite a year."