Burnt Toast & Offerings was included on the following year-end “Best of 2007” lists:
AllMusic.com Editors Top Ten of 2007
Ottawa Citizen Top Ten Country/Roots discs of 2007
Music Road Best of 2007
Indie Launchpad Best of 2007 podcast
Napster Best Americana of 2007
Gretchen Peters was named “Artist of the Year” for 2008 by Folkwax magazine.
From Gretchen's "Burnt Toast & Offerings" bio:
Since she released her last record, Gretchen Peters, a Nashville hit songwriter with a seemingly charmed and easy life has been through the wringer.
Accused at one point of having a midlife crisis, she thought about it a little while and then, despite the negative connotation, said, “Hell yes, I’m having a midlife crisis. Midlife is when people should be reassessing. By the time you’ve reached that age you’ve realized that it ain’t endless. It’s going to end. And it’s going by faster and faster. So, by god, make the most of it!”
“A midlife epiphany” is perhaps a better description of what Peters had one day in 2004 on a tour bus somewhere in the U.K., where she’s enjoyed a thriving, decade-long career as a performer on top of her American songwriting success. It was a realization that she needed to take control of her own life, and it would turn her world upside-down and inside-out before culminating in Burnt Toast & Offerings, a deeply personal coming-to-terms record that both reveals and transcends the specifics.
It’s not like the best-selling, Grammy-nominated songwriter needs drama in her life to write a song that rings true. Peters hadn’t personally lived through domestic violence when she gave life to “Independence Day,” one of the most powerful and empowering women’s anthems ever recorded by a country artist (Martina McBride). Nor did she really know “The Secret of Life” when she took a stab at it in that feel-good Faith Hill hit. And she’s certainly never been a circus girl or a Brooklyn cabbie, just a couple of the more memorable characters from her own previous four albums--songs from which, along with others she’s written over the past 20 years, have been recorded by artists as diverse as Etta James, the Neville Brothers, Bonnie Raitt, Neil Diamond and Bryan Adams as well as country queens Trisha Yearwood and Patty Loveless.
So she didn’t need drama, but drama is what she got when she divorced her husband—and manager and booking agent and producer—of 23 years.
“Professionally, I was looking at, essentially, abandonment. You can be this empowered woman, and write these empowered-woman songs, but there were a lot of times, after leaving, I could not believe how scared I felt. There was a huge wall I had to get over in terms of thinking, OK you can do this.”
As always, Peters went to “the well,” as she calls it. That place deep inside her where she accesses the emotions that allows her to create. But this time, that place was scarier. “Often what feels like the scariest thing is the right thing,” she said. “For me, that was getting more personal.”
Burnt Toast & Offerings kicks off with the frustration and anger of “Ghost”: “There was a girl who used to live here…. / But you let her beauty go unnoticed/ You let her music go unheard/ You should have listened when she told you/ You should have hung on every word.” And it ends with the painful reality of making a change in “To Say Goodbye”: “We are dreamers slowly waking/ We are shooting stars across a midnight sky/ We are strangers in the making/ But we’re not ready to say goodbye.”
On the tracks in between, though, Peters not only says goodbye to her old life, she says hello to a new love, a band mate of 16 years, and to a relationship that inspired what “might be the first flat-out, unrepentantly guileless love song I’ve ever written.” (“The Way You Move Me”)
A self-described folkie and hippie chick despite her mainstream country creds, Peters co-produced the record with Doug Lancio, whose work with Patty Griffin (1000 Kisses) she admired, and whose atmospheric guitar playing and intuitive production helped her achieve the layered, mysterious, feminine sound she was looking for. Her enchanting voice is perhaps the only crystal-clear part of a record that’s a bit murky by design, a complex, multi-hued sound that befits the lyrics of a woman who knows that life isn’t simple and it isn’t black and white.
For years, she said, “I wasn’t ready to take control and say it’s my life, my career. It took a huge upheaval for me to come to grips with the fact that I wanted to design my own life.”
Part of her master plan now is performing more often. The problem with being a successful songwriter, Peters said, is that you don’t have to tour, and in fact are discouraged from the less lucrative job of playing live in small clubs. “But going out and playing is a critical part of writing a song for me, to have it live and breathe. It’s almost like they’re not really done being written until you’ve lived in them for a while.
“There’s a spiritual aspect to performing,” she continued. “It’s the only time you’re completely in the moment. Writing is very cerebral; in the studio there are lots of choices you have to make; but when you perform, it’s the only Zen moment. For me that’s hugely important.”
Nowadays when she performs these songs, she can even joke about it all, telling her audience, “This is my divorce album, and as such there are a lot of really happy songs on it.”
But of course it wasn’t always that easy. At first she asked herself, how am I going to write about this? How am I going to talk about it? “But I thought of other writers,” she said, “like Joan Didion, and the book she just put out. How incredibly personal it was. She put her whole thing out there. And I thought, Yeah, that’s what writers do. Showing your humanity is probably the bravest and best thing you can do artistically.”
Burnt Toast & Offerings is proof of that.
Praise for "Burnt Toast & Offerings":
...Burnt Toast & Offerings is a record about the messiest part of love -- the barren desert where it unravels, falls apart, and empties one out, leaving one broken and seemingly alone, in a strange land where all previously known has been spirited away. (Peters) reveals that love demands nothing less than total surrender in order to open to it fully and experience its bounty. No matter what it looks like, its promise is enough. With the help of producer/guitarist Doug Lancio, piano and keyboard wiz Barry Walsh, bassist Dave Francis, and drummer John Gardner (with guest musicians in tow), Peters delivers a set of new songs that is simply searing in its lyric honesty and accompanying melodies, sophisticated enough in musical arrangements to carry them to the listener as a gift. The songs offer an encounter with beauty in all its marred, tragic, and transformative glory. The sound of the recording is pristine; it reveals in clear, wide-open tones and abundant -- though never excessive -- atmospheric ones, the struggles and epiphanies these protagonists experience...
...This is Gretchen Peters' finest moment as a recording artist, and perhaps her finest as a song-lyric poet as well. Her rhymes and melodies are sometimes stretched here, pushing at the meaning of words themselves to communicate what is clearly beyond them. And it is here, in these grooves, that the strength and determination in her voice -- illustrated by musical accompaniment and production verging on brilliant -- carry these songs from the depths and the darkness of her private well into the open air to be kissed by the light. The flaws she discovers are not merely revealed; they are celebrated. They come to us in the form of a record album of ruddy but welcome gifts, and we can accept or reject them but we cannot ignore them. Burnt Toast & Offerings is the most sophisticated and truthful recording about love since Nick Cave's The Boatman's Call. It's not the next step for this contemporary singer and songwriter, but a giant leap, an aesthetic milestone that sets the bar higher not only for her but for anyone wishing to write songs honestly about the inside of a life in the process of being lived, a life that holds love as its zenith...
-Thom Jurek, Allmusic.com
Writing as a vulnerable every person as opposed to a wronged crazy ex-girlfriend, Peters grabs the brass ring again with a set that can rate right up there with classics like Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” for feelings about disintegration and resurrection.
-Midwest Record Review
...this album isn’t about hits; it’s about art. And by that measure it may be Peters' biggest success....
-Vintage Guitar Magazine
...Peters is not composing confessional tales as therapy. She’s reflecting on the conflicting impulses of her life and writing pop songs. This leads to some real interesting observations that resonate on a number of levels. Beware—even the simple songs have hidden depths...
She hasn’t recorded a pile of albums like some artists, but she’s recorded nothing but first rate material when she has. This one looks to be a turning point for her though. Working with producer Doug Lancio this is a fully realized gem. Among some wonderful new originals she slips in a cover of the Sinatra standard “One For My Baby” and it fits like a glove. She’s another artist that has been known to most as a songwriter but it’s definitely her time now. This one is special.
...Quite possibly the finest New Urbanist divorce record a Nashville performer has yet released, Gretchen Peters' Burnt Toast & Offerings gets the artist out of herself. It spruces up Peters' preoccupations in ways that usually elude the country artists who cover her songs, and it's as relaxed as a Sunday morning when children and husbands are still asleep. With rich, distanced sonics from co-producer Doug Lancio, it's far more adventurous than her four previous records, but works as a classically self-involved singer-songwriter statement....
...On this, her fifth album, songwriter Gretchen Peters (“Independence Day,” “The Secret of Life”) delivers honest, often heartbreaking observations of life at the end of a 23-year marriage. Not surprisingly, there’s plenty of bitterness and melancholy in many of the tracks here, but there’s hopefulness as well. It’s a breathtaking tightrope act that could have gone horribly wrong for a lesser artist. Gretchen Peters makes it look way too easy, even when every track tells you there’s no way it could have been...