Record Of The Week # 131

Mary Gauthier – Dark Enough To See The Stars

Gauthier’s 2018 release Rifles & Rosary Beads was rightly nominated and won awards. It was a cathartic and powerful album where she collaborated with US military veterans and created songs that addressed their traumas from operating in war zones. By way of her having the skill set and empathy to undertake such a difficult project then her personal history has been difficult and the journey character forming. As a consequence her work is always a deep dive and reflects her life, its vicissitudes and more importantly coming out the other side. 

Sonically this is a delightful listen with achingly beautiful melodies that compliment her lyrics. The arrangements and instrumentation, which include strings, are layered and sit behind her vocals. “How Could You Be Gone” has her literally disorientated as she attends a funeral in a fog of indecision and grief: it’s easy to relate to her distress. “Dark Enough To See The Stars”, a title she openly admits to having taken from a Martin Luther King quotation, has a crisp and clear vocal over an acoustic guitar and piano. She’s joined on harmonies by her partner Jaimee Harris. As their voices swoop and soar she looks to what those dearly departed friends, whether John Prine, David Olney or Nanci Griffiths, gave her during their lives to hold onto as a positive.

However there are also songs about love such as “Amsterdam” and “Fall Apart World” where she covers the quality of her partner and the joy and strength their bonds give her. “Thank God For You” has some strident piano. The tune and arrangement could be lifted from Randy Newman: no bad thing. Again her gratitude is set against the challenges she’s overcome of early abuse and drug dependency. She now has an unconditional love that gives her purpose and hope. Eventually a gospel organ joins the song; as we play out the only thing missing is an ‘Amen’.

I expected thoughtful lyrics about the human condition but probably not such a great sounding album. This is a very fine release.

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