Women have long expressed that men have placed them in boxes when it isn’t our decision to make. But it’s only over the second half of this decade that we men began to listen.
Singer/songwriter Gretchen Pleuss (pronounced Plus) is a kind woman and a great enigma simultaneously, which could come off as intimidating on the right or wrong day. What’s really happening is that she’s being herself, regardless of your preconceived notions. On her third LP, Daughter of the Broader Skies, Gretchen speaks for herself, and any woman (or person, for that matter) who just wants to be free to roam and figure it out on the journey.
The album begins at a moderate pace, as you would at the start of a long drive with just you and your thoughts. The road is silent because you chose to leave early to get a jump on potential traffic. Gretchen tells tales that could be 100 percent autobiographical or complete fiction. Starting with the two most pop tunes on the album, “If You Saw Me Now” and “Everybody’s Pretty,” is a brilliant play. Not that these songs are bad in any way — I’m calling it that “Everybody’s Pretty” ends up in a Hallmark commercial — they just don’t exhibit Gretchen’s full prowess as an artist.
Gretchen’s vocals are always flush and she never leaves a moment indescriptive. Lyrically, she can be cold and callous or brutally honest. Either way, you’ll find yourself on one side of the story and that breathes true in “Unpack,” when Gretchen describes two lovers tugging on each other’s heartstrings through a 13-state-distance relationship. The way Gretchen’s voice can make a potentially problematic union sound charming is almost intoxicating.
“Open Doors” displays her nonchalant approach, finding Gretchen “never saying what she wants” and “being both yes and no.”
“Songbird” and the title track are Gretchen at her strongest. Both songs are sanguine as she floats through acceptance of the many facets of life, love and the pursuit of comfort.
The musicians that accompany the tracks are some of Akron’s finest, and they build a solid fortress around the softness of Gretchen’s air. Between a profuse Matthew DeRuburtis bassline on the title track, Phil Anderson’s teardrop keys on “Sheepish” and Ray Flanagan’s evocative slide guitar on “Open Doors,” the deck is stacked to keep the ride clean.
There is a moment where the album can feel long, and that moment is “Rainy Days,” but it all depends on your listen. The person being cast aside in this story could very well be the same person from “Unpack,” the long-distance relationship finally tapering out. There are no forced political stances, although there are moments of addressing disparities, such as on “Borders” and “One for All New.”
Gretchen is not here for your unwanted advice or forced rough sketch of her big picture. Maybe the point is overstated, or maybe she’s just making sure you heard it the first time.
Gretchen’s third LP contains 12 tracks filled with a lifelong traveler’s worth of wit, self-awareness and emancipation. This album is for those who refuse to lie dormant and wait for life to happen to them. There’s so much out there to see and experience — and maybe that’s why Gretchen Pleuss has been cradled as a Daughter of the Broader Skies.
Gretchen Pleuss’s new album, Daughter of the Broader Skies, will be released on April 12 via Sun Pedal Recordings. You can catch her performing songs live at the Rialto Theatre on April 12 at 7 pm.
Floco Torres is a musician and community outreach manager for The Devil Strip.
Photo: Gretchen Pleuss at Signal Tree Festival in 2018. Photo: Nathan Rogers.