Trouble & Love
Still lamenting the lack of really great Lucinda Williams material across the last decade? Holding out for Springsteen to deliver another of his acoustic “folk” albums? Sad to hear of the loss of Michelle Shocked’s mind? Well there’s a place you can turn. The place you should always go: the songs of Mary Gauthier.
For a couple of decades she’s been crafting some of the best Americana music you could ever hope to hear – and her latest is a cuts-right-to-the-bone breakup album, one that recalls that towering achievement in this stark and powerful sub-genre, Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out The Lights.
In just eight songs – as was the case with the Thompsons’ “divorce” album – Gauthier kisses off a painful bust-up, announcing on the album opener, When A Woman Goes Cold, that there “ain’t no mercy in her soul when a woman goes cold”. It’s delivered in one of Lucinda’s best snarls, a warm curl of guitar in support. It’s the best song never included on Car Wheels On A Gravel Road; it’s also just another great Mary Gauthier song. And though the subject matter means this album is relentless, intense, it’s an album filled with really great songs. No mistakes, no filler.
False From True feels like a Jackson Browne taking-stock song, you might know it from the sorts of very fine songs Emmylou Harris has shaped late in her career; it feels, too, like Springsteen when he’s writing true.
The title track arrives with all the stoicism of Not Dark Yet Dylan, of his Trying To Get To Heaven and Most of The Time, those sorts of head-held-high-but-hopeless and Gauthier is writing as well as she ever has here. She sounds at the very top of her game, gorgeous, sympathetic backing – a restrained band adding the sounds of the train in the distance and other country staples, but never churning them out like clichés, instead transforming them, creating new settings and spaces.
Walking Each Other Home, How You Learn To Live Alone, Oh Soul, Another Train, Worthy – the titles alone could make you cry.
She’s one of those voices – on the page, in the liner notes, coming from the speakers – one of the ones that can make you feel good about feeling sad, can snap you out of it as well as bum you out big time. She’s one of those voices – you’re pulled in, you empathise. You understand the pain she’s offering. It’s profound and deceptively simple and there’s that beacon of hope always. And you believe it. You believe every word.
Trouble & Love is among Gauthier’s very best. That of course, as fans will know, simply lists it alongside all that she’s ever done. Nothing so simple about offering that level of quality, of consistency.