Singer and songwriter Mary Gauthier's recordings have always been peopled with the restless and lost, some terminally, others temporally. Her protagonists ask lots of questions. Some of them are nakedly transparent mirror images of herself or thinly disguised representations. She's conscious of it, because in her songs the only things that matter are the questions.
Lost and Found Mary Gauthier is a natural-born yarn-spinner, and her latest album—an autobiographical account of childhood abandonment and failed reconciliation—is quintessential Gauthier: tender and pained, yet ultimately harmonious. The subject matter is gloomy, but warm acoustic melodies and her grainy twang offer an inescapable charm. The title track plays like a mournful French cabaret; meanwhile, on “Mama Here, Mama Gone,” lonely piano notes reinforce Gauthier’s tale of being “orphaned in limbo” by her mother at “St.
Mary Gauthier chooses her words carefully. My favorite moment on the country singer’s 2005 breakthrough album Mercy Now comes about a minute into the title track, where she sings, without a trace of irony, “I love my father”. Even in country music, a lyric like that shouldn’t work. Listeners are too wary of anything sentimental.
Mary Gauthier is a survivor with a remarkable history. She was abandoned in New Orleans as a baby, ran away from her adopted parents as a teenager, then battled with drink and drugs before settling down to study philosophy, open a restaurant and change direction yet again in her thirties, when she became a singer-songwriter on the folk/country circuit. Her life story has been reflected in many of her finely observed story-songs, but now comes a concept album dealing with the pain of being abandoned, her struggle to find an identity, and her search for her birth mother.
Not a lot of fun, but it tells a very sad story with bleak eloquence. Nick Barraclough 2010 Songwriting as catharsis is clearly effective. Otherwise why would it have been done by the likes of Lucinda Williams, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and so many others, so successfully? Their trick has been to make it accessible to an audience that has not had the same life experiences, who might not even be able to empathise with the writer’s emotions.