Mary Gauthier is no stranger to hurt and heartache, despair and gloom. Over the course of seven albums she’s relayed her own troubled past – adoption, drink, drugs, brushes with the law – and done so brilliantly rising to the top of the current crop of singer songwriters. Rifles & Rosary Beads is another album of troubles and woe with Gauthier’s wearied and resigned voice, as always, capable of conveying a multitude of emotions. The difference here is that Gauthier is relating the pain and trauma of war veterans, the songs having their gestation in a series of song writing workshops where she sat down with US veterans and transformed their experiences into song.
Songwriting With Soldiers is a non profit organisation started by Darden Smith which encourages veterans to share their experiences with professional songwriters. Weekend retreats feature workshops and the resulting songs are performed and recorded with participants given a CD to take away along with other memorabilia of the retreat. Download copies of the songs recorded are then made available to the public with the veterans involved and the artist given song writing credits Gauthier (along with a list of other well known artists) has been involved in the project for several years and Rifles & Rosary Beads is her “commercial” version of some of the songs she has co-created over those years, all of whom were consulted and agreement given that the record be made. A portion of the sales generated will go to Songwriting With Soldiers.
You can read an interview with Gauthier here which goes into some detail about the song writing process, however in the studio she has recorded the songs very much in her usual manner such that anyone not knowing of these songs’ gestation would just be marvelling at yet another very fine Mary Gauthier album, The War After The War and Morphine 1-2 could easily sit on any of her other albums – the former song was crafted when Gauthier sat with six spouses of veterans who explained their ongoing difficulties dealing with the emotional fallout from war on their partners (with all six listed as co-authors). While there’s a strident, almost martial edge, to the opening song, Soldiering On, the album as a whole is set in Gauthier’s familiar laid back style. Iraq portrays a female soldier’s experience of sexism from her supposed comrades, Rifles And Rosary Beads is a vivid picture of a soldiers totems and fears and It’s Her Love is a devastating portrayal of a veteran’s reliance on his partner’s support. The album closes with an anthem of sorts, a cry against the indifference meted out to many wounded and troubled service men and women as Gauthier sings that they are Stronger Together.
Rifles & Rosary Beads is a powerful and emotive listen. It’s Gauthier doing what she does and doing it well. Beyond that it raises the profile of the forgotten wounded (and surely here in the UK there’s a need also). You can hear many of the original songs recorded at the retreats here.