Pierce Pettis

Pierce Pettis

Mentone, Alabama, United States | Established. Jan 01, 1980 | INDIE | AFM

Mentone, Alabama, United States | INDIE | AFM
Established on Jan, 1980
Solo Americana Folk




"Reviews Pierce Pettis Album: Father's Son"

Getting his first break when Joan Baez recorded 'Song at the End of the Movie' back in 1979, the Alabama born former Nashville staff writer became an integral part of the 80s Fast Folk movement in New York alongside the likes of Shawn Colvin and Suzanne Vega, making his solo debut in 1984 with Moments. Since which time, he's released a further eight albums, of which 1993's Chase The Buffalo and 2001's State of Grace, are particular highlights.

However, while he's featured as part of the New Agrarians trio alongside Kate Campbell and Tom Kimmel on their 2014 debut, this is his first solo album in ten years. It's a welcome return on which he's joined by a core backing band of Stuart Duncan on fiddle, and mandolin, Doug Lancio on electric guitars, keyboardist Reese Wynans , with bassist Garry West and drummer Josh Day providing the rhythm section.

The album kicks off with Ruth Moody on background vocals and daughter Grace Pettis singing on the infectious refrain for the mandolin tumbling 'Wouldn't Change It For The World' that's essentially a celebration of life lived as, his voice slightly more gravelly than before, he sings "Any given day/Got a 50/50 chance/Things will go my way/ As the tables turn/Sometimes you're blessed/ Sometimes you're burned/ But that's ok/And I wouldn't change it for the world."

While the plaintively sung, soulful 'Very Same Moon' slots comfortably into the thoughts of home while on the road genre ("Under the sky/At the same time/I will be dreaming for you/Though we're apart"), there's a strong reflective streak to the new material, evidenced on the stripped back 'Don't Know Where I Am' on which he uses the imagery of being adrift at sea, at the mercy of the wind and waves to talk of a loss of direction.

It's immediately followed, however, with ' The Adventures of Me (and this Old Guitar)' on which music provides the compass ("When I strike a certain chord I feel the flutter of his wings") that's seen him sail on "Oceans of gasoline/Millions miles in my car" and brought the contentment of learning "to make my peace/With all the things I could not force", the focus shifting from stages to the intimacy of being "alone here in this room", crafting a legacy for his children. Which, of course, is at the heart of the album's organ-backed, almost hymnal title track, one of two tracks to feature Jordan Perlson on drums, Pettis sounding a little like a smokier Daniel Lanois as he runs through a litany of inherited traits,

A co-write with Andrew Peterson, the fiddle and organ-backed 'More' is another song addressing life and paths taken, an optimistic number about faith and things having a purpose because "our nature hates a vacuum" and that, even if we not see the big picture, "There is more/More than we can see/From our tiny vantage point/In this vast eternity."

By way of contrast, 'Mr. Zeidman', featuring a string arrangement by Andrea Zonn, is the album's only storysong, a poignant memory of and tribute to "our one and only Jew", a Holocaust survivor (who "wore long sleeves/To keep an ugly thing from view") who ran the local tailor's shop and "had a smile for every child and/A piece of candy, too." He never spoke of his experiences, of those he lost, but,having sold up and moved to Miami, "came rumors of a fatal jump", suggesting perhaps the result of a life no longer with a purpose.

There's two covers. First up is Jesse Winchester's soulful, blues-tinted 'A Showman's Life', a song that has clear echoes of Pettis' own experiences of "the fevered chase of a tiny star …. a hotel room and a lonely wife", the other, as on his past albums, being a song by his late friend Mark Heard, 'Look Over His Shoulder' riding organ and steady marching drum beat as the lyrics chime with the album's fears of uncertainty but also its sense of affirmation and faith as he sings "It takes more than your passion and more than your pain/For the rock of forgiveness to melt in the rain."

Fittingly, then, echoing Cohen's songs about his relationship with his God, the album ends with the moving hymnal 'Instrument', mournful fiddle accompanying Pettis as he pleads "Let me be an instrument of your peace/Let me be a tool in your hand/Crooked and warped though I might be/Let me do some good here while I can", that people might "catch a little glimpse" of their saviour through him. "Make me useful in this life", he concludes, which takes your mind back to the opening track and the line about "Maybe why I write these songs/Like a crazy man on a mission." These songs are his sacraments of grace, offerings to touch and hopefully ease the heart and soul of those who take the time to listen.

Mike Davies - FATEA Records (UK)

"Pierce Pettis—Father’s Son"

This is Pierce Pettis’s first studio album in almost a decade. The album opens with “Wouldn’t Change It For the World,” an autobiographic look at the life of a songwriter and troubadour. He covers similar ground with Jesse Winchester’s “A Showman’s Life.” One could read some of the same theme into “Very Same Moon,” a song he sings with (and possibly too) his daughter, who last sang with him at the age of nine on 2009’s Everything Matters. In an interview for Music Matters Review back in 2001, Pettis said of his songwriting, “Sometimes I feel like an idiot savant. I accidentally come across things that everybody knows. I have long since come to the conclusion that I have nothing to teach anybody, but the best I can do is to try to remind people of the things they already know.” He expresses this even more succinctly in “The Adventures of Me (and this Old Guitar), “So I just breathe in all the details/ And sometimes exhale a song.”

With his quiet vocal style and vibrato, his best songs are subtle, grounded in profound truth. “Your Father’s Son” is simple and hauntingly effective, letting us fill in the particulars of our own relationship with our fathers. Over the years Pettis has written songs that you will find yourself needing to hear at a significant events in your life. Set at a graveside, “More” is such a song. “This is not the hardest part of all/ This is just a seed that had to fall.” “Mr. Zeidman,” a memorial to a small town’s “one and only Jew,” tells his story through the eyes of people who did not know him well, yet reveals his essence between the lines. It is a masterpiece, enhanced by Andrea Zonn’s beautiful string arrangement. Pettis covers “Look Over Your Shoulder,” a beautiful song by his late friend, Mark Heard. The last track “Instrument” is a songwriter’s prayer, “So if anyone should pay me any mind/ Let them catch a little glimpse of you.”

As one would expect from an artist who has devoted his life to his craft, you will find these songs in your head enriching your spirit and ready to turn to fully when you need them. —Michael Devlin - Music Matters Review


Twin strengths are apparent throughout this moving album, Pierce Pettis’s first in almost 10 years: his skill as a songwriter; and his gravelly, intimate vocals, which somewhat recall Jesse Winchester. Many of the lyrics seem autobiographical, including those for “Wouldn’t Change It for the World” and “The Adventures of Me (and This Old Guitar).” Other standouts include “Mr. Zeldman,” about the “one and only Jew” in the singer’s hometown, “who wore long sleeves to keep an ugly thing from view”; “More,” which Pettis cowrote, about how there’s more than this earthly life; and two well-selected covers, Winchester’s “A Showman’s Life” and Mark Heard’s “Look Over Your Shoulder.” --Jeff Burger - No Depression Magazine

"Pierce Pettis Father’s Son Album Reviews | January 14th, 2019"

Billy Joe Shaver may have coined the phrase, “I may not be able to sing them real well, but I sure can write them,” a songwriter’s statement that could just as easily be applied to folk singer/songwriter Pierce Pettis. Like the best of songwriters, Pettis gives his songs an enduring quality, with a voice that may not draw a listener in right away but somehow rings authentic, heartfelt and, in a weird way, endearing. This, Father’s Son, is his first album in nearly a decade with a stellar cast of backing musicians.

The Alabama songwriter is in a reflective mode, writing about friends he’s lost, childhood memories, and relationships experienced as both a father and son. It reunites Pettis with label owner, bassist, and four-time producer Garry West, with whom Pettis collaborated to comb through 40 songs before landing on the ten. Eight are originals and there is a cover of Jesse Winchester’s “A Showman’s Life” and Mark Heard’s “Look Over Your Shoulder.”

The backing cast were familiar friends and veterans from previous albums including keyboardist Reese Wynans, fiddler/mandolinist Stuart Duncan, and violinist Andrea Zonn. His daughter, Grace, joins again on backing vocals. Newcomers include acclaimed guitarist Doug Lancio (John Hiatt, Gretchen Peters) and drummers/percussionists Josh Day and Jordan Perlson along with Ruth Moddy (The Wailin’ Jennys) on background vocals.

The album opens with the upbeat message of positivity with “Wouldn’t Change It for the World,” a song about contentment, made that more touching by the harmony vocals of his daughter. His cover of Winchester’s tune is a bit slower and even more aching than the great version that Buddy Miller did on Midnight and Lonesome. The centerpiece of the album is found in the title track, a song about never forgetting where you came from, and the following childhood memory song, “Mr. Zeidman,” that he describes as about the “one and only Jew” in his little town, who always wore long sleeves to “keep an ugly thing from view.” Andrea Zonn adds a lush string arrangement to give it even more poignancy.

As you’d expect, given the overriding theme, he touches on mortality in “More.” Per his usual, he includes a song from his late good friend Mark Heart, covering “Look Over Your Shoulder.” It has special meaning for Pettis, who elaborates, “…as it was the last song Mark ever performed. I know this because Kate Miner and I were with him at a festival in Illinois and on stage with him at the time.”

As you listen to these tunes and peruse the lyrics, it’s as if Pettis has reached the point in life when the proverbial upward career arc has flattened. Like others in many professions, he’s taking stock of what his job Is now—songwriter, father, husband—committing to doing the best he can.

—Jim Hynes. - Elmore Magazine

"Pierce Pettis Releases His First New Album In Nearly A Decade"

A songwriter's songwriter, Pierce Pettis is back with his first new studio album in nearly a decade with FATHER'S SON, out January 18 on Compass Records. NPR Folk Alley is premiering the entire album online as part of their "Hear It First" series.

Folk Alley's Kim Ruehl writes: "Well beyond its crack lyricism and intuitive arrangements, 'Father's Son' is populated by some truly great players. Among them, guitarist Doug Lancio (Patty Griffin), fiddler Andrea Zonn (James Taylor), and vocals from Ruth Moody (The Wailin' Jennys). Together, the band backs Pettis's songs in a way that is artfully subtle and supportive, always in service to the song rather than showing off their own chops. This is in part thanks to producer Garry West, but is also a testament to how well Pettis writes a song."

Featuring 10 tracks, including a cover of Jesse Winchester's "A Showman's Life," the Alabama songwriter writes about friends he's lost, childhood memories, and the relationships he's experienced both as a son and a father on these deeply moving, literate songs. FATHER'S SON, reuniting Pettis with producer Garry West, was recorded "live on the floor, with the band, with minimal overdubs, to capture the energy and authenticity of Pierce's performances."

Pettis was joined in the studio by a cast of old friends and veterans from his previous albums: Reece Wynans, widely known for his work with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Joe Bonamassa, contributed piano and Hammond B-3 tracks. Longtime collaborator Stuart Duncan contributes his multiple Grammy-winning fiddle skills along with some beautiful mandolin parts. Also back is violinist Andrea Zonn (James Taylor Band), who contributed the string arrangement for "Mr. Ziedman."

"Adding backing vocals for the second time is my daughter, Grace, who last recorded with me on EVERYTHING MATTERS when she was 9 years old! " Pettis says. And of course, my long-time producer and friend, Garry West, joins us on bass and produced for the fourth time.

Some newcomers to Pierce's world are guitarist Doug Lancio, known for his work with John Hiatt and Patty Griffin, drummer/percussionists Josh Day (Sara Bareilles, John Oates) and Jordan Perlson (Adrian Belew, Alison Brown, Blue Man Group), and vocalist Ruth Moody from renowned vocal trio, the Wailin' Jennys

At this point in his life, as a career touring artist and father of four, Pettis has reached a period of reflection and peace with his life as well as a comfort zone as an artist.

"The biggest change," he says, "has been getting over myself and realizing this is a job and a craft. And the purpose is not fame and fortune but simply doing good work." - Broadway World

"Boston Globe (concert review)"

“Pierce Pettis. The best southern songwriters, like the best southern novelists, are born storytellers. On his latest CD, "Great Big World" (Compass), Alabama-born Pettis wrestles with the big issues of life, love, family, and community; displaying a southerner's gift for the revealing detail: old home movies, a dress undone, the drone of power lines, a stuffed bear lost in a child's busy room. His wispy baritone seems always to be searching, but never whining; as if he is trying to figure these things out with us as he sings. It gives his ballads a palpable credibility; an endearing uncertainty that seems like a better mirror for these times than the cocksure tone of some earlier eras.”
--Scott Alarik, The Boston Globe (May’05) - The Boston Globe

"Prolific tunesmith shares songwriting expertise with Westport audience"

"Pettis is recognized and respected as one of contemporary acoustic music’s leading tunesmiths." - The Norwalk Hour, Hearst Communications, Inc.

"Image Journal: Slow & Spare"

Slow and Spare
Friday February 20, 2009
By Brian Volck

My first acquaintance with Pierce Pettis came through his 1988 CD, While the Serpent Lies Sleeping: ten original songs with a folk-rock feel, a cartoonish cover and photos of a very young-looking Pettis sporting a mullet. I learned about the album in the same Sojourners review that introduced me to the music of John Gorka. Two lifetime favorites encountered in a single review: it’s hard to find a more efficient introduction than that.

Among the tracks is “Legacy,” a bluesy lament over the intractability of American racism and one of the finest, saddest songs I know. (It’s good to hear Pettis bringing this gem back into his performance repertoire.) The remaining nine are musically well-crafted—was there ever a time when he didn’t have musical chops?—though it’s no slight to say that his lyrics have improved over the years. Since 1996’s Making Light of It, Pettis’s lyrics have become increasingly spare.

The result is lyrical coherence, in the sense that laser light is coherent: every wave in step, reinforcing the entirety to an unexpected intensity.

Pettis’ latest release, That Kind of Love, is in that vein, another step on the way to making every note and rest crucial to the whole. The CD begins with a cover of a Mark Heard song (“Nothing but the Wind”), a tribute Pettis has followed on each album since Heard’s untimely death in 1992—part of Pettis’s effort to sustain the musical legacy of his friend and onetime producer. Two other covers nod toward similarly important influences in Pettis’s music: Jesse Winchester’s “Talk Memphis,” and Woody Guthrie’s ballad of struggling migrant workers, “Pastures of Plenty.”

The remaining songs are wholly or partly his own, most of them familiar to those who’ve heard Pettis play at recent Glen Workshops or at intimate venues across the country. But what struck me immediately about the realizations on this CD is how much Pettis has slowed the tempo.

“I am Nothing,” a call to artistic humility (“I am nothing / But the angels sometime whisper in my ear.... / Sometimes I like to make believe / I hear”), pulses at half the speed I heard it in Santa Fe or Cincinnati. “Farewell,” recalling one of Pettis’s ancestors who left Rhode Island at sixteen years of age for an arranged marriage to a man in Alabama, has slowed to a Chopinesque dirge, each chord ringing long and beautifully without sacrificing the melody’s sad energy. Anyone who attends to this song without some struggle against tears is surely dead from the neck down.

The risk one runs in slowing the music is ponderousness, bordering at times on self-parody. Pettis deftly avoids this trap, sensing—to my ear at least—just how much he can turn down the heat without freezing out the listener. It’s another way of making every component fully count, of wringing the most of from each chord before moving to the next.

It reminds me, in ways difficult to articulate, of Tim Lowly’s 2008 CD, Chasing Brother Angel. (I mentioned Lowly’s visual art here in a post over a year ago.) Lowly’s music is different in almost every way from Pettis’s: ensemble-based, meditative, with sound and vocal samples intertwined with what Lowly calls “digital tomfoolery,” but the result is a similar magnification of components such that the beauty of a single tone does not compete with or detract from the beauty of the whole.

All of which returns me to a dilemma I’ve felt with particular acuity since the Over the Rhine twentieth anniversary concerts this past December: if music can so powerfully, effortlessly, and immediately move the human heart, why am I wasting my time with words alone? I haven’t come up with an answer yet, and here I am writing about it again.

Sometimes Walter Pater’s observation, “All art constantly aspires to the condition of music,” inspires me. Other times it leaves me dispirited and envious. Words are all I have. They fail me and vice versa. Music mocks my efforts.

But Pettis, Lowly, and Over the Rhine—not to mention Bach, Ellington, and Paert—beckon me toward a further—if unreachable—distillation of my craft, such as it is. Every sentence is an attempt, an essay, a raid not only on the inarticulate but the ineffable. And so I and all writers press on, forever stripping away the unnecessary, trying without anything like final success to honor real things with true words—no more, no less.

Let me know when you’ve got it right. I don’t think I ever will. - Image Journal

"Picks for country, bluegrass and contemporary shows"

"Pierce Pettis is a songwriter’s songwriter. With a new CD slated for release on quality Compass Records, Pettis has a careers-worth of material to draw from, and a legion of fans eager to hear them." - Raleigh News & Observer

"Curator Magazine"

That Kind of Love:
An Interview with Pierce Pettis By Tom Wilkinson:

Pierce Pettis is one of today’s most celebrated American songwriters. His songs, tinged with his Appalachian upbringing, have been called “profound,” “beautifully delivered,” “wry,” “sensitive,” and “an integral part of any singer/songwriter’s collection.”

The Curator’s Tom Wilkinson has followed Pettis’s career for years, and he recently discussed songwriting, storytelling, and how to have a lengthy career in the music business with the musician.

You’re often referred to as one of America’s great songwriters, so I have to ask - what do you think makes a good song? When you teach songwriting, what do you say?

There are so many great songwriters who are much better than me. But in my opinion, a good song is one that makes you think - not of the writer and his world, but of your own life. It’s that quality that makes a song universal.

I teach songwriting workshops occasionally. If it’s a short afternoon session, I just run through the nuts and bolts basics: making a strong chorus, tips to improve melody, lyrics that say less and mean more, and so on. But when I have several days for a workshop, I like to spend the first session on a “philosophy of songwriting.” I like to challenge the class to consider their real motive in songwriting, and the point of songwriting, in general.

You’ve been doing essentially the same thing for the last twenty years: writing songs, putting out albums, and touring the country. How do you build a steady, perhaps modest, life out of music when you’re not a “rock star”? How can musicians build longevity into their careers?

It’s pretty hard to do, but I’ve also been blessed with a small following of people who allow me to actually squeeze a living out of writing, recording, and touring. Without their support I couldn’t do it - nor would I want to.

I’m probably the worst person in the world to give advice to musicians, but I would say be true to yourself, ignore trends, learn from other artists, and trust your own voice. Play what you know is good, and work to make it better.

Your most recent album, That Kind of Love, is your fifth with Compass Records. How does it build on your previous recordings, and how does it break with what you’ve done before?

My first album for Compass Records, Making Light of It, was recorded in Nashville, but I had David Miner, a producer I’d worked with before, come from California to produce with a mostly-Californian crew. The next album, Everything Matters, was my first entirely Nashville-based project.

Though these two projects were great, I think I really began to find my own identity on the next album, State of Grace. This was the first of three albums with Garry West. Garry owns and runs Compass Records with his wife, Alison Brown, so I was surprised and flattered when he asked to produce the record.

I had just experienced a string of professional misfortunes, and I was out of a job, out of money, and on the verge of losing my house. I had expected Garry to drop me - not produce me. I discovered in Garry an amazingly gifted and supportive producer. I hadn’t realized that Garry and Alison were actually fans - that they really liked what I was about as a writer and artist.

So, I was allowed to draw more on my own Appalachian upbringing. The songs were all about home, family, and nostalgia. Recorded live, the sound was more rootsy and warm, and the cover art was a painting by Howard Finster, who grew up in my home of DeKalb County, Alabama, rather than the usual photo portrait. The players on the album were not only top-notch, but they really wanted to be on the project.

The next album, Great Big World, continued what State of Grace started. We added more wonderful players, the sessions were done live, and the sound was, if anything, more rootsy than before. Some of the songs were co-writes with David Wilcox and continued in the family/home/faith vein. The cover art was by Chattanooga-based (and Howard Finster-inspired) artist, Terry Cannon.

The new album builds on the previous two recordings with the return of many I’ve worked with before, creating a musical zone I’m familiar and comfortable with. I think it differs in that Garry and I tried to make the album entirely song-centered - it stands or falls on the strength of each individual song, instead of a theme. The production is quite a bit more intimate and sparse. And the songs themselves are pieces I’ve performed live and lived with much longer than on earlier albums.

There are four years between Great Big World and That Kind of Love. Four years must have resulted in a lot of additional material. Not to sound greedy, but any chance we’ll see some of those songs from the cutting room floor on a B-side album or EP later this year?

Well, there have always been those cutting room floor songs. Though it was written in the 90s, I don’t think I was really up to performing “To Dance” th - curatormagazine.com

"Sing Out! on PIERCE PETTIS Great Big World"

"Pierce Pettis doesn't write mere songs, he writes literature...End to end the songwriting is brilliant...Pierce Pettis albums are events in my listening. His writing just gets better all the time and his singing is marvelous, wry and warm..." - Sing Out!


By Jason Killingsworth (August 2004)
"Sometimes I’ve thought, ‘Maybe I should take the civil services gig and work at the Post Office like Faulkner did, hang out in the back and write.’ On the other hand, realistically, I would drive them crazy and they would drive me crazy. I hate having to tour and be away from my wife and family, but that’s what you do. Truck drivers hate it too. It doesn’t always get to be glamorous."—Pierce Pettis

Strolling past the narrow, brightly colored storefronts lining the grassy square in downtown Decatur, Ga., leaves you with that breezy sense of well-being only a small town can provide. Merely six miles from the heart of Atlanta, these humble establishments—peddling fresh sushi, Thai food, primitive art, even knitting supplies—won’t offer the monotonous familiarity of towering mustard-yellow arches but they’ll gladly provide something increasingly rare in our franchise-cluttered landscape: singularity. The owners of these shops don’t oversee business from the 37th floor of some cloud-impaling skyscraper; they work behind the counter, greet you with a neighborly “hey there” when you walk in the door, and suggest items that may suit their customers’ unique tastes.
The opening of the 2004 Decatur Arts Festival has brought an unusual volume of foot traffic to the square on this humid late-May evening. But unlike the hand-holding, leash-gripping folks hurrying down the sidewalk (15 minutes behind schedule, according to their determined grimaces), I’m here for another reason: to catch a Pierce Pettis concert at Eddie’s Attic, one of the nation’s foremost acoustic music venues. The club itself is housed in the upstairs portion of a comfortably worn brick building (formerly the lingerie department of a Belk-Galant department store), situated right around the corner from the aforementioned bevy of shops. In the darkness, the rubicund glow of the Attic’s neon sign casts a faint reflection on the rain-soaked walk.

Eddie Owen, who founded the Attic in the early ’90s, wanted to provide a listening room in which singer/songwriters could share their art without having to compete with the inebriated clamor endemic to most other bars. The intimate, oak-furnished listening room (which feels more akin to a living room) is split into two discrete areas. A dimly illumined bar and walkway along one side of the room, on the other a general seating area full of tables and chairs, most of which sit vacant on this Sunday night. Once the opening act concludes his lackluster set and beats a hasty retreat to the bar, Pettis replaces him on the same thinly carpeted stage that helped launch the careers of John Mayer, Shawn Mullins and the Indigo Girls.

If Pettis is disappointed with the abysmal turn-out, you wouldn’t reckon it from his altogether genial disposition, greeting the crowd warmly—but with a noticeable rasp—before launching into an inspired, romping cover of Mark Heard’s “Another Day in Limbo.” Slapping the strings of his Lowden S25J with feverish determination, he reaches the chorus with shoulders heaving for the breath to belt out, “Blinking away the sunrise / Listening to the wind blow / Angels with dirty faces face another day in limbo.” His dusky voice cracks, faltering slightly on many of the song’s higher notes, but he presses on toward the finish, betraying no hint of frustration.

Pettis, a veteran troubadour who’s been touring almost incessantly since he finished school at Florida State University in 1980, is hardly one to let a head full of yellow pollen get the better of him. Leaving the capo clipped to his guitar’s headstock and keeping the songs in a manageable register, he steers the set into a more subdued cadence, opting for tunes less vocally ambitious but just as emotionally charged. From a slightly ragged voice—one that might have threatened to handicap his performance—emerges a fragile, broken fervor. I’m reminded that transcendence often requires a measure of joyful incapacity.

I’ve been fortunate to see Pettis play this room several times over the past few years and have grown accustomed to the levity in his stage presence, the fitful charisma with which he stirs his audience into a cackling frenzy by spouting whatever giddy nonsense enters his head. I’ve seen him take a healthy swig from a brimming pint of Guinness, only to smack his lips together and quip into the microphone, “Mmm … rich chocolaty Ovaltine!” Or introducing “Georgia Moon,” a song inspired by the “dark, creepy parts of Georgia like you see in the movies, where there’s stuff hanging in the trees,” only to chase this statement with, “I lived in Atlanta for 10 years and we had stuff hanging in the trees … but that was toilet paper.” Then before the laughter subsided he’d launch into yet another song so lovely, so painfully true that it made me want to find a vacant bathroom stall in which I might discreetly bawl my eyes out.

Tonight, all Pettis has the energy to offer is his earnest best, - Paste Magazine

"Performing Songwriter quote"

"...one of the more vital and critically acclaimed folk stars of recent years." -Performing Songwriter - Performing Songwriter

"Cover Lay Down"

Pierce Pettis Covers:
Mark Heard, Jesse Winchester, Guthrie, Dylan, and more!

Pierce Pettis‘ 1989 sophomore release While The Serpent Lies Sleeping was the first solo folk album I bought with my own money; I still have the vinyl put away somewhere, waiting for the day the tinnitus fades, and I can appreciate the fidelity. I bought it because of the power of a single song, the title track to Legacy: A Collection of New Folk Music, a Windham Hill collection of up and coming singer songwriters which would also lead me to John Gorka, Bill Morrissey, Cliff Eberhardt, and David Massengill, all of whom were featured in some way or another in my father’s record collection, while Pettis was not.

[Incidentally, Legacy also contained a lovely, delicate harp-and-guitar cover of Prince's When U Were Mine by a female duo called the Blue Rubies, which I continue to look for in some digital form. Funny how so much of one's future as an audiophile can be traced to one defining album. But I digress.]

While The Serpent Lies Sleeping wasn’t perfect — looking back, it is clear that the production doesn’t really fit what Wikipedia aptly describes as Pettis’ “introspective and introverted lyrics” — but it was a revelation all the same. Up until then, I had thought of modern folk music as something sparse involving a songwriter and a guitar; this was something else. Pettis may have defined himself as folk, having grown up as a member of the Fast Folk crowd along with so many artists we’ve featured here at Cover Lay Down, but with the exception of that hauntingly beautiful selection from the Windham Hill sampler, the production on the album was decidedly folk-rock, upbeat and drum-heavy.

I listened to the album for weeks, but I had just started a new high school, and soon, my head was filled with new sounds: hip-hop, grunge, and alt-rock. Other than my early infatuation with the folk rock of the Indigo Girls, my brief experiment with Pierce Pettis was one of the only times I would make that close a connection to folk on my own terms, without my father’s influence, until I started attending folk festivals as an adult a decade later.

Two decades later, though I had come back to folk music, I’d kind of lost track of Pierce Pettis. Some of this was due to my own provincialism: unlike ubiquitous touring machine John Gorka, who seemed to show at every folk festival I attended, the Alabama-based Pettis doesn’t hit the northeast festival circuit that much. But some of it was due to the misimpression of his style left by that single album — one which I was still lugging around in a box every time we moved, but which I no longer listened to all the way through.

I had gone away assuming that Pettis was a folk rocker, struggling to be heard against his own production. But in the intervening years, Pettis had pulled away from the harder edge of folk rock and, with the assistance of his friend and next-round producer, fellow singer-songwriter Mark Heard, redefined his sound around a more straightforward folk model without losing the potency of his lyrics, or withdrawing from his instantly recognizable acoustic-roots style. I just didn’t know.

Which is why I’m especially grateful that last week my friends at Compass Records sent along That Kind of Love, the new album from Pierce Pettis. Because while having missed so much of his career — an error I am rapidly addressing, I swear — I cannot speak to whether this album is a homecoming for Pettis himself, I can say it makes an excellent homecoming for this listener. And I suspect it provides an equally strong introduction for those that might need one.

From a here-and-now perspective, That Kind of Love is a success on many levels. It brings me back to an artist with a sense of lyricism that I’d forgotten, helping me see why so many singer-songwriters celebrate Pettis as a songwriter first, and why so many of his peers, from Joan Baez to Garth Brooks to Dar Williams, have chosen to add his songs to their popular repertoires. It has a full and diverse sound, highly produced and tinged with americana and blues, that fits squarely in the pantheon of modern roots-folk classics, making it an enjoyable listen from start to finish. And, notably, it contains three very strong cover songs which provide access into the world of Pierce Pettis as a nuanced emotional interpreter of lyrics.

Pettis has covered a Mark Heard song on every one of his albums since Heard’s untimely passage in 1992, and this one is no exception, leading off with an upbeat take on Nothing But The Wind which sounds of a piece with the work Pettis was doing way back when I first discovered him. There’s an appropriately dusty americana-tinged fiddlefolk cover of Guthrie’s Pastures of Plenty here, too, which is well worth the purchase. But it’s the Jesse Winchester cover, of a song which I first heard via Chris Smither, which is the true cover gem on the album. Where Smither made the s - coverlaydown.com

"Wood, Wires & Whiskey"

Pierce Pettis, That Kind Of Love
By Eric Thom

Despite his best efforts, and nine solid releases, Pierce Pettis remains well under the radar of too many people. Pity. A world-class songwriter, his career achieved lift-off when Joan Baez picked up one of his songs. Since then, Dar Williams and Garth Brooks have done the same, while the performer earned his stripes in NYC performing with contemporaries Suzanne Vega and Shawn Colvin. Yet his longer-term reputation as a crack Nashville-based singer-songwriter has been lost on a wider audience. One listen to That Kind of Love brings with it instant reward. The record is characterized by the keen observation in his lyrics and emotive vocals (a husky blend recalling John Gorka and Roger McGuinn), usually framed by a percussive, rhythmic backdrop of acoustic guitar, banjo and slide. From the opening groove of the buoyant "Nothing But The Wind" to the delicate, introspective "Something for the Pain," Pettis weaves an intoxicating spell that lifts the role of singer-songwriter to loftier heights where reflection and introspection yield to comprehension and clarity. And while he can work certain magic with a cover, as he does with Jesse Winchester's "Talk Memphis," it is originals like the thoroughly addictive "Veracruz" and drop-dead beautiful "Hallelujah Song" that instantly define him as a songwriter equipped with the rarest of gifts. (Compass) - Exclaim.ca (Canada)

"Daily Express Music Review"


Monday March 16,2009
By Claudia Goulder

Pettis is one of those gruff, uncompromising American singer-songwriters you imagine sits strumming his guitar on docks of bays and by dusty b-road gas stations. Part Bruce Springsteen, part Richard Thompson, there's much to enjoy on this, his meditative ninth album. The title track, a doleful hymn to unconditional love, is lovely, but the ballad Veracruz is the real standout.

Our verdict: 4/5
- Daily Express (UK)

"Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange"

That Kind of Love
Pierce Pettis
Compass Records - 4496

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Roberta B. Schwartz

Pierce Pettis is truly a songwriter's songwriter. He has dedicated himself to serious music making for some thirty years. Hailing from Alabama, he became a staff writer for PolyGram Publishing in Nashville. Joan Baez covered one of his songs as did Dar Williams and Garth Brooks. Until now, he has remained just under the radar as a popular solo performer. His January, 2009 release, That Kind of Love, may change all that.

The recording is expertly produced by Garry West, one of the co-owners of Compass Records. He surrounds each of Pettis' songs with support from some of Nashville's finest musicians, among them: Stuart Duncan (on fiddle and banjo), Phil Madeira (on Hammond B3 and accordion), Kenny Malone (on drums and percussion) and Garry West himself (on electric bass).

The opening track, Nothing but the Wind, grabs you right from the start. It was written by the late Mark Heard, whom Pettis credits as a hero both as a songwriter and a man. It's got Phil Madeira on Hammond, Rob McNelley on slide guitar and Stuart Duncan on fiddle. But most of all, the melody takes hold, and you go along for a wonderful ride.

I Am Nothing is simply put, a great, great song. It is about a singer/songwriter, Don Dunaway, whom Pettis says "has labored in obscurity at a small tourist bar in Florida for over 30 years." It's got a powerful beat and even more powerful lyrics:

I am nothing
But the angels sometimes whisper in my ears
Yeah, they tell me things
And then they disappear
Though I am nothing
Sometimes I like to make believe
I hear

Andrea Zonn contributes perfect vocal harmony, and Pettis accompanies himself on guitar.

Farewell is the kind of song every songwriter would like to call his/her own. It tells the story of a maternal ancestor of Pettis' who was given away in marriage at the age of sixteen, to a much older man. She travels from her native Rhode Island, down to Alabama, far from the sea. Pettis has captured the melancholy, the hope and the fear. He has also captured the tenderness he feels for the great, great, great grandmother he only knows through family lore. Here is her story.

The title tune, That Kind of Love, is moving, tender and true. Both the melody and the lyrics stop you in your tracks. For a moment you forget about the harsh realities of the outside world. Only a truly great song and an even greater songwriter can do that.

If records were novels, That Kind of Love would be the kind of absorbing read that makes it to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Instead we have an album full of story songs intelligently written, with beautiful melodies. Each tune reaches deep into the heart. The music of Pierce Pettis is timeless. That Kind of Love should be in every music lover's collection. It is simply that good.
Track List:

* Nothing But the Wind (Mark Heard)
* I Am Nothing
* Veracruz (Robert Vega/Pierce Pettis)
* Farewell
* Lion's Eye
* You Did That for Me (Jonell Mosser/Pierce Pettis)

* That Kind of Love
* Talk Memphis (Jesse Winchester)
* To Dance (Greta Larson/Pierce Pettis)
* Hallelujah Song
* Pastures of Plenty (Woody Guthrie)
* Something for the Pain

All songs written by Pierce Pettis except where noted. - acousticmusic.com


  • Moments (Small World, 1984)
  • While the Serpent Lies Sleeping (Small World, 1988, original release)
  • While the Serpent Lies Sleeping (High Street, 25 September 1989, full release)
  • Tinseltown (High Street, 18 June 1991)
  • Chase the Buffalo (High Street, 13 July 1993)
  • Making Light of It (Compass, 8 October 1996)
  • Everything Matters (Compass, 16 June 1998)
  • State of Grace (Compass, 10 July 2001)
  • Great Big World (Compass, 3 August 2004)
  • That Kind of Love (Compass, 27 January 2009)
  • New Agrarians (independent, 2014) as a part of the trio The New Agrarians
  • Father's Son (Compass, 18 January 2019)



Pierce Pettis, adored by both critics and public alike, is one of this generation's most masterful songwriters. His music is distinguished by his uncanny ability to capture universals in human experience by drawing on the humor and trials in daily life.  Beautiful melodies, strong guitar work, and Pierce's rich vocals are a constant throughout his body of work.

Pettis has performed in 49 of 50 states as well as in Canada and Europe, appeared on American Public Radio's Mountain Stage, been featured on National Public Radio's E-town, Morning Edition and World Cafe ... appeared on VH-1, CBS News, and the Nashville Network.

During his long career Pettis has been a writer/artist at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama and a staff songwriter for Polygram/Universal Music in Nashville.  Artists covering his songs range from Garth Brooks, Art Garfunkel, and Dion to Clair Lynch, Tim O’Brien, and Joan Baez.  After three critically acclaimed albums on Windham Hill/ High Street, Pettis joined Compass Records in Nashville, releasing five albums —including "That Kind of Love" (2009), which received rave reviews from XM/Sirius Satellite Radio, Paste Magazine, Performing Songwriter, American Songwriter, The (London, UK) Sunday Express . . . to name a few.  In 2014, he joined a co-effort with Kate Campbell and Tom Kimmel to release “New Agrarians —Songs and Stories of the Southland”.  Pettis also appeared on the 2013 release, “A Very Blue Rock Christmas” along with Ruthie Foster, David Wilcox, Terri Hendrix, Sara Hickman … and many others.  “Father’s Son”, his new solo project for Compass Records Group was released in January of 2019 & is currently #10 in the NACC Folk Charts (1/23/19)

Band Members