Trisha Yearwood’s welcome return to the country mainstream in 2019 gave us the treat of her first album of new material in a dozen years, the deservedly-acclaimed Every Girl. We’re turning back to her 1990s heyday, not for one of her many big hits but for a single that nevertheless stands as a real jewel in her crown. Yearwood’s version of “On A Bus To St. Cloud,” the beautiful song written by esteemed singer-writer Gretchen Peters, entered Billboard’s Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart on December 2, 1995.
The track was the final release from Thinkin’ About You, Yearwood’s fourth regular LP, which continued the incredible run of success started in 1991 with her self-titled debut set. That had produced four country top tenners, including a No.1 at the first time of asking with “She’s In Love With The Boy.” The interim years had yielded three more visits to the top ten, before Thinkin’ About You upped the ante further.
Both of the first two singles from the 1995 album topped the country chart, “XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl)” and the title track. The ensuing “You Can Sleep While I Drive” missed the Top 20, but became another staple in her songbook, and then “I Wanna Go Too Far” climbed to No.9.
“On A Bus To St. Cloud” was a ballad of porcelain delicacy that was, perhaps, not suited to the rigorous expectations of country radio. But Yearwood’s admirers thrilled both to her sensitive delivery, to the tear-stained eloquence of the lyric and its gossamer melody. The narrator is en route to the town of the title, in central Minnesota, when she imagines she sees her former lover, who hauntingly appears before her in repeated settings. “And it’s strange but it’s true, you just slipped out of view,” she sings. “Like a face in the crowd, on a bus to St. Cloud.”
Yearwood’s admirable reading, produced by Garth Fundis, did much to raise Gretchen Peters’ profile as a songwriter of rare sensitivity. It arrived long before the Bronxville, NY-born, Nashville-based artist released it on her highly recommended debut album The Secret Of Life, which followed in 1996. Billboard’s review of Thinkin’ About You gave particular mention to “St. Cloud,” and to Kim Richey’s “Those Words We Said,” as “the kind of high-drama ballads this singer can really wrap her formidable vocal cords around.”
Other songs on The Secret Of Life would also serve Peters well, with covers by Faith Hill of the title track and by Martina McBride of the anthemic “Independence Day.” Hill recorded two other songs from the album, “This Uncivil War” and ‘When You Are Old,’ Peters’ own version of which was a country chart entry.
A simple secret weapon
“I saw the name St. Cloud, and I just thought, what an evocative name,” Peters told Songfacts, musing on how a map can be a simple secret weapon to a songwriter. “I had really no particular image of what that place would be like, except I knew it was in Minnesota, so it must be snowy. But I hadn’t been there, and so I really just started with that name.
“I remember really well the day I was writing,” she continued. “I didn’t finish it in one day, but the day I sort of started it and got the main bulk of that song. It was snowing in Nashville, and that I’m sure was responsible for a couple of the lines, like ‘With the snow falling down around you like a silent prayer,’ and those sorts of things.”
Trisha Yearwood’s “On A Bus To St. Cloud” is on Thinkin’ About You, which can be bought here.