CD Review: Mary Gauthier – Live at Blue Rock (CD Baby, 2013)
Gauthier’s strength as a live performer is evident from the riveting cover of Fred Eaglesmith’s “Your Sister Cried” that opens her first live album. Taken at a resolute tempo, Gauthier is at once haggard, reportorial and sympathetic, and her hard-strummed guitar is augmented by dramatic accents, a harmony vocal and a solo from violinist Tania Elizabeth that leaves the audience hooting in appreciation. Together with percussionist Mike Meadows, the trio proves that less can very much be more, as their presentations leave enough space for the vocals, harmonies, lyrics and instruments to each shine, but combine the elements into a musculature that a solo singer-songwriter rarely achieves.
Key to the proceedings is Gauthier’s way with a lyric. Whether singing or reciting, she’s magnetic as a master storyteller who’s in no hurry. Her harmonica and Elizabeth’s violin are similarly free in their pace, allowing the solos and accompaniment to ebb and flow with the lyrical mood. The song list includes selections from all but Gauthier’s first studio album, with a generous helping of four selections from 1999’s Drag Queens and Limousines and three Fred Eaglesmith tunes. She sings of outsiders: a hobo king, an addict and an alcoholic, a disillusioned father, an unmoored adoptee and a repentant murderer. But even with their troubled backgrounds, they form a surprisingly seemly lot, humanized by Gauthier’s telling of their stories.
There are autobiographical threads throughout Gauthier’s material as she recounts the hidden history of her hometown, personal tribulations and liberations, and the colorful friends with whom she’s traveled. Her songs form a compelling memoir that she sings night after night; and though she’s been lauded for both her studio and stage work, what’s captured here is a seamless confluence of craft and performance – the solid platform of her songs upon which she layers a dramatist’s appreciation of presentation. The CD highlights a detailed snapshot in front of an appreciative audience, one that will stoke the memories of those who’ve enjoyed Gauthier’s live sets, and provide new listeners a compelling introduction to her work as a singer, songwriter and performer.