A sense of loss and potential loss runs deep in the lyrics of Nashville singer/songwriter Mary Gauthier, though it looks like she’s on a winning streak of late. Mercy Now (Lost Highway, 2005), her fourth album, gained high praise from reviewers across the country and found the singer lauded as “New/Emerging Artist of the Year” by the Americana Music Association.
Her newest songs still tap disappointment, however, as in “Same Road” from her soon-to-be-released Between Daylight and Dark (Lost Highway, September 2007). She writes: “I’ll come back to get you but baby I can’t stay/ The same road that brought me to you is gonna carry me away.”
Asked about her own losses, Gauthier muses, “It’s one step forward, two steps back. I’m definitely on the road, but there’s no way to grow older without suffering a lot of losses. My old losses were self-imposed because of destructive behavior on my own part.”
But now she finds she’s turned outward.
“As I get older, the losses [become] just a process of outliving people, of being present for people and then losing them. We all come with an expiration date, I guess, but that’s not a good-enough reason not to love people.” Gauthier pauses and adds, “You’ve got to transcend the fear of attachment—knowing that you’re going to lose people. Because attachment to people is really the most important thing in life.”
A New Orleans native, Gauthier (pronounced go-shay) tells the story of a Katrina escapee in “Can’t Find the Way,” who laments, “I wanna go home/ I can’t find the way.” And in “The Last of the Hobo Kings,” she observes: “Now bums just drink and wander round/ Tramps dream and wander too, but a hobo was a pioneer who preferred to work for food.”
I asked her if she’d seen much homelessness as she travels around the country.
“Yeah, I see homeless people around the world.” However, she reveals, “it’s far worse in the United States than it is in Europe. Aside from churches there’s not a real safety net here and people can fall through a lot easier, so there’s a whole lot more homeless people here.”
The singer has climbed up from a history of substance abuse, and constantly expresses concern for what some might call the dregs of society. “Thanksgiving” outlines the indignities imposed on families visiting kinfolk in prison.
“The humiliation and degradation they go through to be with a loved one is not something that society would applaud—but I applaud it. I think it takes great courage and dedication. To me that’s what love is. That’s what that song is about.”
In “Snakebit,” the lead-off track on the new CD, the protagonist refers to her father and makes a prediction that she’d be snakebit like he was.
Her own dad, says Gauthier, “passed away in January. He never got into recovery. And never got out of the darkness, he never did.” But she then explains that the song wasn’t intended to be autobiographical. “It’s a pretty strange thing being a writer. You think you’re writing fiction, writing in a character, then you stand back and say, ‘Good Lord! That’s me after all!’ I didn’t see that when I was writing it.”
The only really political lyric to be culled from either disc is “My church and my country could use a little mercy now/ As they sink into a poisoned pit.”
Gauthier’s pit is peopled with the usual suspects: “The same stuff they taught me in Catholic school,” she quips. “Pride, arrogance, selfishness, small-mindedness, pettiness. The story hasn’t changed from the beginning, it’s the same things that have brought people down forever.”
Told that her music seems in many ways aimed at lifting people up, she responds: “I’m just trying to lift me up. My real work is to try to ease my own confusion. There’s such chaos in my mind—I use my writing to try to sort things out. If people get lifted up along with it … that’s icing on the cake.”
On Saturday, June 30, The Grey Eagle (185 Clingman Ave.) hosts a benefit concert for the Long Branch Environmental Education Center, featuring Mary Gauthier, Chuck Brodsky and Buford’s Atomic Outhouse. 8 p.m. $12/$15. 232-5800.