Mary Gauthier

TrackAlbum
Old Love Never DiesDixie Kitchen
Drag Queens In LimousinesDrag Queens In Limousines
I DrinkDrag Queens In Limousines
Different Kind Of GoneDrag Queens In Limousines
Good-ByeFilth & Fire
Camelot MotelFilth & Fire
Christmas In ParadiseFilth & Fire
Mercy NowMercy Now
Between The Daylight And The DarkBetween Daylight And Dark
Walking Each Other HomeTrouble & Love

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Contributor: Calvin Rydbom

Mary Gauthier could easily be the poster child for life having amazing second chapters, or perhaps even third ones, if we are being particularly precise today. Left at St. Vincent’s Women and Infants Asylum as a baby, Gauthier was adopted when she was a year old by an Italian Catholic family and raised in small town Louisiana. Her abandonment, adoption and upbringing have long been subjects for her songs. She ran away at 15 and spent a couple years in and out of Drug Rehab and halfway houses before attending Louisiana State University for a few years, leaving in her final year and just short of obtaining a degree in Philosophy. As you might imagine, her songs are thoughtful and often about what we may think of as the more seedy side of life.

She found herself in Massachusetts and a student at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. It wasn’t long after that she opened a Cajun restaurant in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston. But she still struggled with dependency. In the summer of 1990 she was arrested for drunk driving; an arrest that was the catalyst to make a significant life change and Gauthier has been sober since that night.

As getting sober was not enough of a life changing decision, she also decided to dedicate herself to a career in music and songwriting and wrote her first song at the somewhat late blooming age of 35. Not long after writing her first she released her debut album in 1997. She named it Dixie Kitchen after her restaurant; a restaurant she sold her interest in after eleven years of running it as well as cooking at it to finance her second album Drag Queens In Limousines. Since then she hasn’t looked back.

Her music has always seemed unique to me, gut-wrenching in its honesty but ofttimes oddly uplifting. I read a bio of her a few years back that described her voice as low but urgent with songs which still manage to contain so much power. I suppose it’s because they are so intensely personal but somehow still seem relate-able to the listener, at least in our lowest moments.

Dixie Kitchen was a strong effort as initial albums go, but it was obvious she was just starting to grow as a songwriter. I could probably come up with a 25-song Toppermost for Gauthier, but given the format I’d go with Old Love Never Dies from her debut. The section where she sings about finding herself talking to that new love about somebody long gone because love tends to roll back around, seems real in way you think, “yeah, I know what she means”. It was a debut worth noticing.

On her second album, Drag Queens In Limousines, her style evolves to a point where she isn’t at all bashful to show the songs are so clearly autobiographical. The title song is one of my favorites as she sings about her love of “Drag queens in limousines/Nuns in blue jeans/Dreamers with big dreams/They all took me in”. It’s also a song about being the kind of person your family loves but doesn’t understand, it’s about “Sometimes you got to do/what you gotta do/And hope that the people you love/Will catch up with you”. It’s a strong statement for an artist just starting out. Perhaps starting to write songs at 35 allowed her the ability to truly understand herself before she started putting her experiences to music.

“I know what I am/But I don’t give a damn/Fish swim/Birds fly/Daddies yell/Mamas cry/old men/Sit and think/I drink” is as strong of a “Yes world, I’m an alcoholic” sort of statement as I’ve ever heard. I Drink, from her second album, makes my list today as well. Gauthier has expressed amusement though at what she saw as a painful statement by an alcoholic has become somewhat of a sing-along at her shows.

Different Kind Of Gone is about as uptempo as Gauthier gets. It’s a song I might have listened to quite a bit a few years back when I found myself in a dysfunctional relationship that didn’t seem to want to end because a lot of times it made sense. She nailed that feeling.

Good-Bye, from her third album Filth & Fire, deals a bit with her struggle with being adopted, which has been a constant theme in her work. In this song she seems to feel her sense of abandonment from the experience is why she feels the need to never settle down and keep moving. “As I move through like thunder/I move through like rain/Moving out from under/Good-bye could have been my family name.”

Camelot Motel is a favorite, as for me it paints a picture of a certain class of people. The kind of people that find themselves in a seedy motel that isn’t particular about whether you register under you real name on a Saturday night. It’s somewhat sympathetic to these folks though as, “Cheaters, liars, outlaws, and fallen angels/come looking for grace from which they fell/so they hold on to each other in the darkness/’cause the morning light is hell at the Camelot Motel”. You feel sad for the choices they make to try and scare away their own personal demons by just holding on to somebody.

Christmas In Paradise sort of turns this around on its head as Gauthier tells the story of a group of homeless men living under a bridge who are happily preparing for Christmas. You don’t quite feel sad for these men, even though you know you probably should, as they seem legitimately happy for what they have and the friendships they’ve made under the bridge.

Mercy Now, from the album of the same name, reminds me a bit of a Cormac McCarthy novel. It’s a condemnation of us as a people with just a little bit of redemption at the end. “Yeah, we all could use a little mercy now/I know we don’t deserve it/But we need it anyhow/We hang in the balance/Dangle ‘tween hell and hallowed ground/Every single one of could use some mercy now”.

Between The Daylight And The Dark, from yet again the album of the same name was co-written with Fred Eaglesmith, a very good songwriter in his own right. I’ve always been taken with the imagery of this song, some of the descriptions are clearly metaphors but I see what she is describing as she sings it. “As the night curtains lower behind the rooftops/Shadows dance across the sidewalks/Ricochet off the houses like pieces of art”. I don’t need to try and picture what she means as the image is already in my head as she sings the lyrics. The line about the wayward girl “who left you with a second place smile and a broken heart” is an amazing line as well.

I found the next two albums she did, solely about her being abandoned as an infant and subsequent adoption, almost too personal. They are good, damn good. But almost too much of a person working through their own personal demons for me to listen to more than a few times. A bit much to go back to really. But I’m glad I heard them.

Her latest album has only been out a month and I haven’t had enough time to digest it really, but I find myself coming back to Walking Each Other Home quite a bit. It’s about the idea in essence that we are all just walking each other home, wherever that is. None of us are right or wrong, we just are.

Gauthier music isn’t driving music or something you’d put on at a party. Her music is an old friend who is just as screwed up as you are. It’s about that old friend helping you dust off and move on. I’m not necessarily someone who needs that, as I’m clearly a glass half full kind of guy. But the messages in Gauthier songs do reach out in a way that is uncommon for me. She is worth a listen.

 

Mary Gauthier: Americana Troubadour, Singer and Songwriter

Mary Gauthier biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #321

5 Comments

  1. David Lewis
    Jul 19, 2014

    I first heard ‘I Drink’ on a compilation CD of songs from Dylan’s radio show, done by UK magazine Mojo. It was one of those jaw dropping hair on back of neck standing up, emotional hit by truck moments. Great artist.

  2. Keith Shackleton
    Jul 19, 2014

    Thanks Calvin, super stuff and very useful for me. Her new record, which I like very much, is the first one of hers I’ve really listened to, so I can now start with your recommendations and go back in time.

  3. Andrew Shields
    Jul 20, 2014

    Calvin, thanks for this excellent list – but I would have to have ‘A Long Way To Fall’ in my top ten for both its brilliant lyric (“you held me while my demons danced and crawled”) and beautiful melody…

  4. John Foggin
    Jul 20, 2014

    I saw Mary Gauthier for the first time, maybe 15 years ago in the dingy concert room of a pub in Sheffield. Seen her in small venues like parish halls, wine bars, and an inner city Leeds church. Couldn’t be happier about her long-delayed proper recognition. Man, has she worked for it! Top ten isn’t quite big enough (which, I suppose, is the point)…but I must have ‘Karla Faye’. Goosebumps and hairs on the back of the neck.

    • Calvin Rydbom
      Jul 20, 2014

      True Andrew, Long way to fall was on my list of seventeen. Which when I first jotted down the songs of hers that would make my top ten is where I started. Karla Faye was probably just on the outside John. But I guess that is true during the genesis of most of these articles. I know I start with 15-20 every time and spend as much time whittling it down to 10 than I do the actual writing.

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