Vanessa Peters “Flying on Instruments”

Idol Records, 2024

Texan singer-songwriter leaves the past and steps bravely into her new world.

artwork for Vanessa Peters album “Flying on Instruments”After majoring in creative writing at the prestigious A & M University in Texas, Vanessa Peters was set to become a novelist. Instead, with her literary studies behind her, she set out on a musical career, spending a year in Italy writing songs and learning guitar. Small wonder then, that through her lyrics she seeks to express the themes that might well have run through her novels. Her first album was released in 2003. Twenty years on and after several tours of Europe, Peters decided to up sticks and relocate to Italy. Before leaving the USA with husband Rik Rowan, drummer and co-producer of ‘Flying on Instruments’, Peters was joined by the rest of her Italian tour band to record for the last time at her home studio in Dallas.

Besides Peters on acoustic guitar and Rowan on drums, the musicians featured on the album include guitarist Federico Ciancabilla, Matteo Patrone on piano and keys and Andrea Colicchia on bass, with Buffi Jacobs leading a string quartet and co-producer Joe Reyes adding lap-steel, mandolin and 12-string guitar. Throughout ‘Flying On Instruments’, Peters writes almost entirely in the first person, giving the impression that the songs form an organic personal statement. Some songs suggest disillusion with the American Dream, as in ‘Beauty or Grace’, a brisk opener showcasing the plaintive nature of Peters’ voice:

“The modern world’s not interested much these days
In beauty or grace
Cause balance sheets and bottom lines have
Taken their place”.

‘Halfway Through’ sets off with acoustic guitar and percussion on a journey that is still incomplete and whose destination she is not sure of. Though Italy is not mentioned, Peters seems to be wondering how the transition is going as she wonders what emotional baggage to retain and what to leave on the airport carousel.

“I’ve carried my whole life on my back
In my Mary Poppins bag……
Still trying to figure out
What to carry, what to leave behind”.

Stepping away from the familiar is no easy challenge and Peters frequently expresses her anxieties. The gentle pace of ‘Blind Curves’ takes another journey into the unknown. With family expectations of her becoming a teacher or a doctor or a mother left in the slipstream, Peters has set out on a road with no map. Her fear of flying and pain at leaving loved ones only serve to increase her doubts about the new life she has chosen before the dance track ‘Pinball Heart’ shows her determination to push the boat out, in her case almost literally:

“I don’t wanna save my best punch
And never get a chance to throw it
So sometimes you gotta go for it”.

The optimism wilts in ‘Out to Sea’, in which she is haunted by memories of a past relationship:

“Drifting out to sea trying not to drown
This is a hell of a drug and it’s taking me down”.

The song-poem ‘How Long’ deals with the way life can throw a curve ball. A series of friends call, each with news of a bereavement, or a terminal illness or a lost love. And here’s where the album’s title and cover art come into play, as Peters likens life’s unpredictable course to a pilot taking a plane through a storm:

“And we’re all flying on instruments
No one’s got a crystal ball
The weather’s bad, the sky is dark
And I can’t see at all”.

The same theme occurs in ‘Hey Claire’ with its repeated chorus line of “We’re all just out here stumbling in the dark” while ‘Wasted Days’ looks back to an unsettled time:

“And every year I make a plan
To be anywhere but here”.

With its recurring metaphor of an unfinished journey, the album leaves the door open for a follow-up, perhaps to be recorded in Italy and with the same team. In writing with such honesty, it would be good to learn that Vanessa Peters has found what she is looking for.

7/10
7/10

About Chas Lacey 15 Articles
My musical journey has taken me from Big Pink to southern California. Life in the fast lane now has a sensible 20mph limit which leaves more time for listening to new music and catching live shows.
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