Thursday, January 31, 2013

Mary Gauthier: “Live At Blue Rock” (2013) CD Review

Mary Gauthier’s new CD, Live At Blue Rock, is her first live album. It was recorded at Blue Rock Artists Ranch in Wimberly, Texas, and features songs from throughout her ten-year career. Mary Gauthier is an excellent story-teller, and her voice has a certain authority to it – a voice of experience, a voice that pulls you in and holds you. Most of these tracks were written or co-written by Mary (the three exceptions were all written by Fred Eaglesmith). These are fairly serious songs, with lines like “I got a hole in me like I was never born” from “Blood Is Blood.” At times Mary’s vocal delivery and passion remind me of the Indigo Girls.

Joining Mary on this recording are Mike Meadows on percussion and Tania Elizabeth on fiddle, vocals and percussion. Tania Elizabeth does some wonderful stuff with the fiddle, at times creating haunting, gorgeous sounds (like on “Blood Is Blood”). She also provides backing vocals (she and Mary sound excellent together on “Cigarette Machine”).

Live At Blue Rock opens with “Your Sister Cried,” one of the tracks written by Fred Eaglesmith.  There is a wonderful sadness to this song, but then a line like “Why do bridesmaids all have to wear the same dress” has a certain humor to it. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I turned on my dims and somebody flashed their brights/And I reached over, turned the radio way down low/Your sister cried all the way home.” I absolutely love what Tania does on fiddle. And steady, sparse percussion by Mike Meadows adds to the power and impact of the song.

“You Sister Cried” is a great opening track. Mary included it on her 2005 release, Mercy Now; Fred Eaglesmith included it on Falling Stars And Broken Hearts.

On “Last Of The Hobo Kings” Mary starts with a quiet, nearly spoken word-style delivery of the lyrics, like Steve Werner sometimes does. This song reminds me a lot of Steve Werner, in fact, as its subject seems one close to his heart too. This is a slower tune about the days of hopping trains, and the freedom and excitement that represented. And the song is about how those days are over. The funeral of one hobo marks the end of that way of life. Mary details some of the changes with lines like, “But boxcars have been sealed for years/And trespassers do time/Railroad yards are razor wired/And hoboing’s a crime.” By the way, the song makes the distinction between a hobo and a bum: “A hobo was a pioneer who preferred to work for food.”

“Karla Faye” is an excellent and moving song, telling the story of a drug addict named Karla Faye Tucker arrested for murder and executed in the state of Texas. This one begins, “A little girl lost, her world full of pain/He said it feels good so she gave him her vein/And the dope made her numb, and numb felt like free/Until she came down down down to a new misery.” There is no mercy for her here, so the advice given her is “You better pray, pray pray/You find mercy in the sky.” “Karla Faye” was co-written by Crit Harmon. 

“Sugar Cane,” co-written by Catie Curtis, is a good folk tune about conditions at and around sugar mills, and growing up near them.  Mary Gauthier sings, “Cane smoke ain’t no good for you when you breathe it in every day/Every year at harvest time when the black smoke filled the sky/She’d pick me up, she’d take me home and make me stay inside.”  Mary does some nice work on harmonica on this one. And Tania provides vocals as well as some excellent work on fiddle.

Mary uses a somewhat lighter tone on “Drag Queens In Limousines,” which starts “I hated high school, I prayed it would end/The jocks and their girls, it was their world, I didn’t fit in.” This is a song about trying to make it on one’s own out in the world, and the folks you meet in the city while pursuing dreams.  Tania provides a little musical humor to accompany the line “Charles was a dancer, he loved the ballet.”  The lines “Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do/And pray that the people you love will catch up with you” get a big reaction from the audience.

Live At Blue Rock concludes with “Wheel Inside The Wheel,” a groovy, high-energy song with a great instrumental section, featuring Tania on fiddle.

CD Track List
  1. Your Sister Cried
  2. Last Of The Hobo Kings
  3. Blood Is Blood
  4. Cigarette Machine
  5. Our Lady Of The Shooting Stars
  6. The Rocket
  7. Karla Faye
  8. I Drink
  9. Sugar Cane
  10. Drag Queens In Limousines
  11. Wheel Inside The Wheel
Live At Blue Rock is scheduled to be released on February 5, 2013 on In The Black Records.


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