Kathleen Edwards / Mary Gauthier – Iron Horse Music Hall (Northampton, MA)
There were many clues that you had floated into an influential songwriters’ confluence on this bustling Monday night.
First, there was the countless number of singer-songwriters in the crowd. You couldn’t walk more than a few feet without bumping into one; from Erin McKeown to Lori McKenna and many others, this was the place to be if you appreciate good songs or those who create them.
Then there was the mutual respect of the two artists on the bill. At different times during the night, you could see each approvingly taking in chunks of the other’s performance from the audience.
Finally, there was the telltale sign of those in the sellout crowd mouthing words right along with the artists onstage all night.
Kathleen Edwards and Mary Gauthier are two of the finest tunesmiths in roots music today. Each has built a wonderful collection of story songs that stands among the year’s best releases. Granted, they might not be the most uplifting tunes you’ll hear, but the characters in them, while not always lovable, are memorable.
First up was Gauthier, who jumped right into the largely spoken-word dirge “Falling Out Of Love” and its dark “vulture shadows” imagery. Gauthier fingerpicked an acoustic guitar and was accompanied solely by Nashville guitarist Thomm Jutz, who added a layer of minimal, nuanced lead parts.
Their 45-minute set included plenty of songs from Gauthier’s beautifully dusky Mercy Now, including the title track, which begins by asking for much-needed mercy for some down-and-out family members and ends by asking for mercy for the whole world.
Gauthier, now living in Nashville, ended with the more groove-based “Wheel Inside The Wheel”, her own New Orleans funeral march, which she wrote for (and dedicated to) her friend and fellow songwriter Dave Carter after his death in 2002.
Edwards’ songs were not much sunnier, but many rocked harder behind her forceful four-piece backing band, which included her producer/husband Colin Cripps on searing lead guitar and background vocals, and Ottawa songwriter Jim Bryson on vibraphone, keys, guitar and vocals. The close harmonies of Edwards and Bryson sounded wonderful on songs such as “Mercury” and the Bryson-penned “Somewhere Else”.
It was the gentler songs from her latest release, Back To Me, that showed a new side to Edwards’ live show. She gave delicate treatment to “Pink Emerson Radio”, a dreamy song about glancing over your paltry possessions as a consuming fire rages around you. Her coarse voice even sounded frail and vulnerable in the upper reaches of her range on the melancholy ballad “Away”, particularly on its reflective couplet, “My mouth smelled like a drink/We were laughing, I think.”
Despite these glimpses of vulnerability, Edwards and band mostly blasted through songs from both her albums during their 90-minute set. This was where she was most comfortable. In fact, as the band stomped through the revving instrumental end to “Copied Keys”, Edwards fell to her knees, turned her back to the audience and reached for some added amp feedback to punctuate the song. Edwards may be gaining notoriety as a songwriter, but on this night she clearly showed she still revels in delivering those songs live and loud.