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That Kind of Love
Artist: Pierce Pettis
Label: Compass
Pierce Pettis is neither a spring chicken nor a sour and wearied troubadour.  He isn’t checking Rolling Stone for the latest trends and must-have producers.  He doesn’t have to because Pierce Pettis has been spitting out consistently good folk-rock for so long that he’s more a brand than entity.  He’s the guy everyone else gets compared to.  At least this is true for people that are in the know.
That said it must be hard to put out a good record considering you’re Pierce Pettis, right?  Think about it.  You’ve got history.  Everything you’ve put out is good.  Is the pressure level high for the next one?  Maybe – or maybe he never thinks about it.  He simply picks up his guitar after a show or late night in a hotel room and plays.  Songs form.  A record sallies forth.  No matter the process, That Kind of Love continues in the tradition of records past, and for anyone reading, looking for the go ahead to buy this one, do so now.
The obligatory Mark Heard song to kick the album off is “Nothing but the Wind.”  (For those not in the know, Pettis starts each record with a Heard track.)  Pierce Pettis has a voice so vulnerable and weathered it always seems as if he may pause in mid-verse to shed tears.  During his concerts, some patrons do.
Some musicians are musicians first and storytellers second.  Some are the reverse approaching it this way: a story wrapped up, taped, and circled round by a bow in a song.  I’ve always appreciated that Pierce Pettis represents the latter, and just to be clear, Pettis doesn’t sacrifice tuneful talent for a story.
I’ve always thought if Pettis hadn’t been a songwriter he’d be the ageless gaffer of the small town, adorned with grease stained overalls, circling the children around and relating the stories and legends passed along from his father’s father: the kind of ennobled man so hard to locate these days.  And in this sense, Pettis belongs in an era far removed from web 2.0 and globalization, an era – ironically – that could teach us a thing or two about good, true, and honest communication.
Making a home of Nashville, as Pettis does, can be a soul sucker.  The city regularly tries to manufacture songs of the common man with one part oversized belt buckle, one part leathered boot, and one part anachronistic Stetson.  Miserable failure in this department abounds; however, Pettis quietly delivers time and time again.
So it’s no surprise that the latest story-songs on That Kind of Love – Pettis’ first album in four years – are simple songs for everyman eloquently delivered.  Those four years allowed for rumination and acted as a proving ground so that the twelve tracks appearing on the album represent some of the best work of their creator.  I’m almost tempted to rank this high among his work for Compass Records, but such exercises are like trying to rank how much you love each of your children: exercises in profanity and ridiculousness; however, songs such as “Farewell” and “Something for the Pain” rank among the most affecting of Pettis’ oeuvre like “Georgia Moon” and “Just Like Jim Brown (She is History)”.
That Kind of Love is without a doubt an unapologetically spiritual album.  “Lion’s Eye” quotes C.S. Lewis nearly word for word: “Catch a glimpse of the golden mane / Is never safe / But you know that he’s good just the same.”  And “That Kind of Love” quotes The Book: “Greater love hath no man / Than that kind of love.”  Pierce Pettis, of course, has never tried to hide his faith on his records, but here, he practically shouts it, not because he’s catering to a demographic or appeasing a record label preying on the wallets of the faithful but because he can do nothing but.  When he sings “You wore the chains so I could be free / You did that for me,” it’s out of joyful gratitude rather than obligation.
This is the kind of album about Christ for those of us too jaded by the marketing machine to set foot in a Christian bookstore – and it’s for the gal working the cash register at the bookstore too.  That Kind of Love serves as a tune-up for the soul in need of a jump start currently resting motionless on the side of the road – a little oil here, grime cleared from there.  I’m wondering if that’s where the stains on the overalls of the gaffer came from, and I’m believing most likely they did.
Luke Johnson
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