Tuesday, 23 October 2012



WOW! Mary Gauthier’s Live At Blue Rock has blown me away so hard and fast I’m writing this review from a parallel universe. Seriously, an album packed with such heavy quality I certainly wouldn’t want to drop the CD on my foot as I imagine it would do some pretty painful and irreparable damage. Although she’s been releasing music for the last fifteen years to increasing critical acclaim, I was shocked to learn Mary only wrote her first song at the age of thirty five. The album dazzles not only the ears but contains a collection of deeply inspiring songs, each and every one of which delves deep inside the mind. Atmospheric to the point you can smell the American mid west in the air or the beer and whiskey breath of I Drink, or even the burning Sugar Cane. Whether you’re a first time listener or long-time fan, once this album is in your stereo it won’t be leaving for quite some time.
The first few tracks set the bar so high I wouldn’t have been surprised if that bar had started orbiting the globe. Yes, there is darkness and brooding in abundance but this is what makes these songs connect so strongly with people. We listen, we appreciate, we learn, we grieve, even. But most importantly, we feel! What we have to be thankful for is that there are musicians out there who can speak to us without commandment and without patronizing but rather with a compassion there should be much more of in this world. This is something Mary does flawlessly through her music.   

Being only the second track on the album it was going to take a hell of a lot to beat Last of the Hobo Kings, for me. While it remains one of my new top favourites of all time, there are many others worthy of such a title. This one in particular however, is one of those songs that stand out a mile, even amongst such a mix of amazing tunes. It has a character and style that renders the vivid images of the true story of Old Steam Train Maury who, ‘knew how the nation was doing by the length of a sidewalk cigarette butt’ as he walked around with his, ‘walking stick sceptre and shredded coffee can crown…’. It sounds like it belongs to the traditional folk pantheon such is the skill with which it was written. It is gorgeous with its delicate mourning country roots, sensational strings and some aptly placed harmonica. It has me going goosebump crazy from start to finish and I could write pages and pages just about this one song but still not do it justice. It really has absolutely everything I’d equate with musical perfection.

Then there’s the heartbreaking and emotional autobiographical song, Blood is Blood. No doubt touching on Mary’s feelings about having been adopted and feeling for a long time like something was missing from her life. It’s that something that roots us into life purpose and gives us a sense of comfort with our identities. It is thus something which everyone can relate to. The song hits you right in the gut first off before covering your heart with its shadow. It nevertheless leaves behind a sense of personal enlightenment demonstrating the secret power therein.

The devastating and tragic story of Karla Faye is told via another song with deep country roots. It draws on the delicate soul of a very lost and troubled young girl. The emotional force with which it is performed, thanks both to Mary’s leading vocals but also Tania Elizabeth’s backing vocals on the chorus and her accompanying violin throughout. It should pull hard on your heart strings and if it doesn’t then you have a cold heart. Not that I’m passing judgement.

Two of Mary’s classic fan favourites also make the cut in I Drink and Drag Queens in Limousines. The first could be a therapeutic way of having accepted alcoholism, the character believing they’ve followed firmly in their father’s footsteps. In reading more about Mary I read somewhere how this song helps remind her about the person she was for a time, and the person she could have ended up as. She admits her life could still follow that path and so the song acts as a deterrent, almost. The second is just as autobiographical as she relates more of her own troubled history with a deeply sincere and engaging performance of the title track from her second studio album. Having mastered the song writing craft to the degree she has, there are always welcome snippets of who she is. These come through in the many character and story songs but with songs like these two, it’s like you get a direct experiential link to her own soul and personality. I feel privileged to share in such an experience.

Don’t be duped by the seemingly overlong final track either. As it’s a live album it would be acceptable if it really was almost fifteen minutes long. However, while the buzzing country number, Wheel Inside The Wheel could bring this colourful collection to an admirable close, there is still one hidden gem to come. Existing fans will know it is of course the cherished and treasured Mercy Now and boy does it close the proceedings in true style by way of a gospel choir on backing vocals. It brings a whole new dimension to the song that will have the finest of your hairs standing on their ends.

These are all valid, deep, personal, articulate, thought provoking and emotive stories. When not about her own life, as incredibly interesting as that remains, there are numerous rich, vibrant characters ranging from dispossessed hobos to those belonging to The Rocket and Cigarette Machine. They’re all bought to life by not only the spectacular lyrics but by Mary’s watertight vocals. Possessing a power and vigour they serve to amplify the immaculate quality. Add to this the intricate and intense violin arrangements, I’d go so far as to say this album offers a real transcendental experience. There’s no mere passive listening. The finished product grabs hold of you by the ears and pulls you right into the heart and soul of all the stories.

Mary pours a torrent of passionate artistic creativity out through her hands to write the way she does. Then she does it all again when performing, captured beautifully by this album. There’s such depth to the whole thing I advise you to don some scuba gear with plenty of spare oxygen tanks because you’ll be listening to this on repeat over and over. From experience, Live At Blue Rock is perfect to introduce you to Mary Gauthier. It will have you checking out her recorded works but only once you’re able to stop playing this one. Even then you’ll have to coax it away from the stereo itself.

I only wish my words could heap enough praise on Live At Blue Rock or indeed upon undeniably one of the best singer-songwriters from across the pond I've had the distinct pleasure to be introduced to since starting to write these reviews. This I don’t just get from this one album, as remarkable as it is. I’ve done a little digging, checked out numerous live videos and read a few interviews. One thing’s for sure, Mary Gauthier is one phenomenal and talented spirit I intend to get to know much better.

Track list: 
 Your Sister Cried ~ Last of the Hobo Kings ~ Blood is Blood ~ Cigarette Machine ~ Our Lady of the Shooting Stars ~ The Rocket ~ Karla Faye ~ I Drink ~ Sugar Cane ~ Drag Queens in Limousines ~ Wheel Inside the Wheel

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