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NTW - Mary Gauthier

6/18/2014

Mary Gauthier, 'Trouble & Love'
Rating: 
On her previous albums, Mary Gauthier's signature as a songwriter has been brutal honesty balanced by a rough-hewn tenderness. Nowhere is that more true than on "Trouble & Love," a song cycle that journeys through devastating heartbreak and its attendant states: grief, anger, accountability, acceptance, and what lies beyond. She assembled her road band and an all-star cast of singers, co-writers, and players, including Beth Nielsen Chapman, the McCrary Sisters, Viktor Krauss, Darrell Scott, and Ashley Cleveland. Recording live in the round in Ricky Skaggs' Nashville studio, there was little pre-rehearsal and no headphones were used. To paraphrase Gauthier, she didn't want the album to sound real, but be real. "When a Woman Goes Cold," co-written with Gretchen Peters, is the opener. In the language of slow electric folk blues, she sings: "You're no longer her concern/Scorched earth cannot burn...." From inside this emotional wreckage, Gauthier begins a transformative journey. "False from True," co-written with Chapman, is a folk song: "You woke up inside a cage/I woke up consumed with rage/A million miles from our first kiss/How does love turn into this?...There are two of you and one don't feel/I don't know which one is real...." She discovers that both are. The lilting piano, arco bassline, and fingerpicked guitar illustrate bewilderment and vulnerability. "Oh Soul," a duet with Scott, employs country gospel for Gauthier to confess accountability -- not to a god, but herself -- at the site of Robert Johnson's grave. On the sparse Americana of "Worthy," she sings: "Worthy, worthy, what a thing to claim/Worthy, worthy, ashes into flame..." and accountability becomes awareness; feelings are valid, blame is pointless. "How You Learn to Live Alone" is framed by Duane Eddy's reverb-laden, slow country picking and a Hammond B-3. The lyrics reveal a tentative state in which Gauthier applied her method for learning solitude after the net of longed-for and now illusory belonging has been cut away: "You release resistance/Give in to the wind/Until the rain comes pourin' in/You sit in the rubble/Until it feels like home/That's how you learn to live alone." Eddy's guitar caresses her vocal as she admits total surrender -- not despair. Closer "Another Train" is about moving on, carrying her new scars as part of life's deepening as it constantly arrives and departs, its meaning ever present and mysterious. She expresses self-forgiveness and, more importantly, she accepts it. The story is far from over when the record ends. The "happy ending" is elusive; these songs take place inside a continuum of immediacy -- there isn't a new love to celebrate. But Gauthier's discovery is that she can not only survive this raw experience, but embrace it, becoming stronger and more compassionate than ever before. This is its own reward. "Trouble & Love" is unlike any other "heartbreak and healing" album; its hard-won, experiential, Buddhist-like wisdom borders on the profound. --Thom Jurek, All Music Guide

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