Mary Gauthier – Trouble and Love (Proper PRPCD123P)

gauthierGauthier’s seventh studio album, her first in four years, finds her stepping outside of the major label model to take control of the business on her own terms. As such, she declares that taking back and reclaiming her power is an underlying theme to both the album and her life, a significant statement given that it also comes on the back of the collapse of a two year relationship.

To which end, the album opens on an unambiguous note with the swampy blues ‘When A Woman Goes Cold’, a lyric about love’s dying embers with Gauthier drawling out the lines “She’d curse my name like she did before, but she looks through me like I’m not there.” with all the pain that being scorned can inflict. The theme continues on the more countrified weariness of ‘False From True’, a co-write with Beth Nielsen Chapman (who also provides harmonies) where she sings “a stranger showed up in your eyes, hard as steel, cold as ice, I tried and tried but I could not break through.”, a track you could hear Willie Nelson performing.

The album’s six minute title track follows on, a melancholic road song full of “rumble strips, red lights…lonely travellers and cheap motel art”, a blizzard blowing though both the air and her heart, albeit to the sound of a gorgeous guitar break by Guthrie Trapp.

If there’s a feel of being in the moment to the album, it’s likely down to the fact that it was, essentially, recorded on the hoof, the singers and musicians recording at Ricky Skaggs’ Studio, without benefit of leads sheet, advance demos or headphones, everything cut live with the back-up vocals totally impromptu. The immediacy really pulls you inside the hurt.

The call for redemption may be overcast with black clouds, but the musical mood shifts somewhat with the fingerpicking arrival of the gospel tinted ‘Oh Soul’, featuring harmony by Darren Scott and, fittingly for a song about selling your soul, a reference to Robert Johnson’s grave. It may not have the most optimistic of lyrics, but the musical tenor is certainly a little more uplifting. Although it features some tasty slide, the lyrically lacerating, ironic country slow sway ‘Worthy’ (“wondered all my life why I felt so alone”) is probably the weakest track, teetering slightly on the edge of a self-pity not found elsewhere.

It’s followed, however, by one of the strongest cuts, the slow waltzing ‘Walking Each Other Home’, the first of two Gretchen Peters co-writes (with a hint of John Prine’s ‘Hello In There’ in the melody) where acceptance and healing start to be felt as she sings “somewhere between Cain and Able is where we live, it’s only human to take more than we give.” The second Peters co-write, ‘How You Learn To Live Alone’, haltingly continues the process, a resigned, bitterly sad heartbreaker (“it’s been years since your house has felt like home”) that features lovely understated twangy guitar courtesy Duane Eddy that eventually flows into a solo snatch of ‘Take Me Home Country Roads’.

As befits an album about survival, the album closes on a note of hope with the plangent ‘Another Train’ finding her “moving on, through the pain”, bluesy keyboard swelling behind the guitars and Lynn Williams’ steady drum beat.

It’s not the most uplifting of albums, but, as she always does, Gauthier has taken personal experience and rendered it universal, an ability possessed by only the most truly gifted of songwriters and performers.

Mike Davies

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‘Trouble And Love’ live:

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