There are some artists whose albums are almost guaranteed to burn a place in your heart and head, who stay true to their course with each release offering the listener an opportunity to share in their thoughts, and sometimes, their emotions. They are few and far between and long gone are the days when the likes of Dylan or Neil Young could be counted amongst them. I would proffer Sam Baker as an example but Mary Gauthier probably tops the list these days. With her well documented troubled youth behind her she was a late entrant to the music business but all of her albums have been raw yet warm emotional torrents delivered almost perfectly in a spare style with her laconic voice hypnotic.
Trouble and Love is no departure from her tried and trusted template and as such should delight those who already hold her in high regard. For others it’s as good a place to start as Gauthier delivers eight world wearied laments that ooze hurt and pain all delivered in a laid back soulful country shuffle. Recorded on the back of a broken relationship Gauthier says
“This record is about losing an attachment I actually made. The loss of it was devastating because I hadn’t fully attached before to anyone. Writing helped me back onto my feet again. This record is about getting to a new normal. It’s a transformation record.”
Gauthier virtually takes the listener through the phrases of grief as the album goes from a sense of hurt on the opening When A Woman Goes Cold, a slow burning blues which builds in intensity as the hurt moves to anger and bitterness to the resignation and acceptance of the closing song Another Train where she sings “I’m moving on through the pain, waiting on another train.” The anger is muted on the folky reminiscences of False From True as Gauthier looks for clues as to what went wrong as the band offer a comfort pillow with what sounds like a cello supporting her vulnerable voice. Oh Soul begins the healing process and in contrast to the preceding songs the tempo is upped and Gauthier is joined by Darrell Scott on vocals for this Gospel outing where she seeks to find succour from a visit to Robert Johnson’s grave. It’s a tremendous performance soaked with sadness and loss but hinting at a light at the end of the tunnel as the uplifting harmonies remind you of the eternal quest for salvation and hope. Worthy is another soul searching song as Gauthier stumbles in the dark still trying to make sense of it all but the final three songs are redemptive although the hurt still lingers. Walking Each Other Home is an excellent weary ballad while How To Learn To Live Alone is a primer on getting back on the tracks with a steely determination to the lyrics that reflects Loretta Lynn’s grit. With fine lonesome guitar picking from Duane Eddy over a lethargic country rhythm Gauthier picks up the pieces with a stoic heroism. Another Train does point to the future and while Gauthier remains wounded and the song moves as sluggishly as Mississippi mud a shining guitar solo hints at a new dawn coming.
Overall it’s a devastating listen, one for late nights and introspection. Recorded live in one takes Gauthier gathered her musicians (guitarist Guthrie Trapp, keyboardist Jimmy Wallace, bassist Viktor Krauss, drummer Lynn Williams and singers Beth Nielsen Chapman, Ashley Cleveland, Darrell Scott, Siobhan Kennedy and The McCrary Sisters) together without rehearsal, led them through the pieces and hit the record button. The result is intimate, naked and raw.