Live The Blue Rock
Label: In The Black Records
Released: February 5, 2013
Reviewed: February 3, 2013
If a mad (or maybe not so mad) scientist wanted to see what would happen if he cloned a mix of Melissa Etheridge and Bob Dylan, the result would be Mary Gauthier (pronounced âGo-Shayâ). The prolific songsmith is releasing her seventh album â her first live project â and what an album it is.
In conversation and in public, Ms. Gauthier comes off as a practical, no-nonsense woman. Stoic, even. Which wouldnât seem unusual, except for the fact that her songs carry so much emotional punch, they can leave you staggering. She has a way of burrowing into that hole so many of us carry inside our souls, and emerging with universal truths that show we arenât so alone after all.
Gauthier knows where our exposed nerve endings lie because sheâs probed her own so deeply, finally learning to unlock the fear and loneliness that controlled her escape-seeking trajectory for so long before songwriting â and the sobriety that drew it forth at age 35 â gave her a steadier flight path.
But even though her six albums have received countless accolades (2005âs Mercy Now earned her the Americana Music Associationâs New/Emerging Artist of the Year title, and 2011âs The Foundling was named the No. 3 Record of the Year by the L.A. Times), Gauthier felt she needed to rack up her pilot hours, so to speak, before she could hit another major milestone: recording a live album. When she was ready, she captured Live at Blue Rock (In the Black Records) at a concert at the Blue Rock Artist Ranch and Studio in Wimberley, Texas, outside of Austin.
âPeople have been asking for a live CD for a long time and I just knew that I wasnât ready yet,â admits Gauthier. âIt took 10 years of trench work. Of beinâ out there, banging my head against all the things an artist has to bang against. Indifference. Poor attendance. Situations that are over your head. Every night, curve ball, curve ball, curve ball. But stagecraft cannot be taught. You have to be onstage to learn it. So after ten years of doinâ it, I got good at it.â
Louisiana native-turned-Nashville resident Gauthier, whose songs have earned praise from Bob Dylan and Tom Waits, and been recorded by Jimmy Buffett, Blake Shelton, Boy George and many others, is not bragging, just explaining, in that practical way of hers. Itâs the same way she discusses experiences that led to some of the extraordinary songs she performs on the album. Renowned songs, such as I Drink, Drag Queens in Limousines and Karla Faye â which addresses the famous fate of that convicted killer, but starts out with lines that undoubtedly reference their author as well: A little girl lost, her world full of pain. He said it feels good, she gave him her vein.
Then thereâs Blood Is Blood, from her last release, 2010âs The Foundling, which plumbs the particular hell of children given up to closed adoption. With a cinematographerâs eye and a lyrical economy that suggests far more than her 15 years of songwriting experience, she chronicles an always-present sense of rejection and rootlessness, the nagging âwhysâ and âwhat ifs,â the endless search of every face for a possible resemblance. I don't know who I am I don't know who I'm not/I don't know my name I can't find my place, she sings, her voice rising from a whisper to a wail. Sheâs not just offering a vein here, sheâs cutting several wide open. Like all of her songs, Blood Is Blood takes on even more power when performed live.
âAs a songwriter, Iâm always trying to go to the deepest possible place inside of me. Past the navel-gazing, past the self-conscious, to get to that âwe,ââ Gauthier explains. ââCause deep inside of all of us is the universal. And that is an artistâs job, to transcend the self. Iâm in there, but then hopefully, it goes past that and it hits something far, far bigger and more important than me. Thatâs what Iâm aiminâ for every time I write.â
Sheâs proud that The Foundling opened the floodgates for thousands of fellow orphans who had never heard anyone articulate their pain with so much insight. Gauthier reports therapists are now using the album to better understand the adoptee experience. Itâs also resulted in several reunions between children and their birth parents â though Gauthierâs birth mother declined that option after Gauthier made contact five years ago. And she understands that decision, even if sheâll never have the full closure she sought.
Sometimes, life just goes that way â particularly for the outsiders with whom Gauthier has always identified most. They populate Live at Blue Rock, which also contains covers of three songs by fellow poet/philosopher (and recent âTin Can Caravanâ tour leader) Fred Eaglesmith, another master at illuminating the sympathetic sides of characters society is not used to regarding kindly, if at all.
âI find the stories I want to tell are the stories of characters who may or may not make it,â says Gauthier. Though sheâs no longer dangling on that precipice, she adds, âI believe in redemption. I needed redemption; I continue to need redemption.â
Luckily, she sometimes finds it onstage, in front of an audience. And just as audiences change from night to night, so do her accompanists.
When Live at Blue Rock was recorded, she had fiddle and percussion adornment. But sheâs experimenting with different configurations all the time, which means the songs also take on new identities nightly.
âTheyâre living things,â Gauthier says of her work. âYou record âem one way, but thatâs just the way you played it that day. Some words change, the tempo changes. It has to go with the flow of the room and the flow of the night.â
Gauthier, a teen runaway who attended college in Louisiana and operated a Cajun restaurant in Boston before getting sober, long ago learned how to go with the flow. And to be patient. Because it takes time to get good enough to wing it.
Live The Blue Rock