Sad Songs from Happy People
Early into their Sunday night show at City Winery Nashville, Mary Gauthier said that they would play some happy songs, but that they did not have any. She added, “We’re happy people.” Allison Moorer stated simply that she writes songs to sort out how she feels. The paradoxical truth is that sad songs have an amazing ability to bring joy to listeners, and this was proven again and again during the nearly two-hour song swap.
Allison Moorer opened the night with “Alabama Song”, the title track from her 1998 debut album. Gauthier followed with “False From True” from her most recent album, Trouble and Love, from which she drew heavily during the night’s show.
The night was filled with heavy emotions and light-hearted stage banter. Moorer, whose latest album, Down to Believing, reflects both the end of her marriage to Steve Earle and the birth of son John Henry and his subsequent diagnosis with autism. There a sense of homecoming for Moorer who lived in Nashville for several years (she now resides in New York City). She seemed almost wistful dedicating “A Soft Place to Fall” (from Alabama Story and the soundtrack to the movie, the Horse Whisperer) to Music Row executive Tony Brown who first signed her to MCA Records and who was in attendance. Gauthier remarked that Moorer had performed the song on the Academy Awards broadcast to an audience of over one billion people. When Gauthier noted how composed and confident Moorer had seemed to be playing for such a massive audience, Moorer quipped that she had been too dumb to be nervous.
Mary Gauthier spoke much more between songs than Moorer and her good natured, sharp humor served as a perfect counterpoint to both Moorer’s soft-spoken, dry humor and to Gauthier’s own emotionally penetrating songs. “How You Learn to Live Alone” and “When I Woman Goes Cold” both from her album Trouble and Love, which was written about a failed relationship, packed an emotional wallop.
“Veteran’s Day”, a song Gauthier wrote with Jamie Trent a veteran she met through her involvement in the organization Songwriting with Soldiers, was equally powerful from an entirely different direction.
Ace Nashville guitarist and producer, Kenny Greenberg, who produced Moorer early album and who returned to produce her latest, joined the pair on stage and his accompaniment enhanced what was already a powerful night of music.
Greenberg added some punch to the first of two songs which directly addressed Moorer’s son’s diagnosis, “Mama Let the Wolf In” which was intense and heartbreaking at the same time. She addressed the diagnosis more directly and opened up the most, when introducing the song, “Gonna Get it Wrong” during the encore.
Before that she played “Blood,” dedicated to her sister Shelby Lynne with whom she shares a complicated and troubled past.
Gauthier introduced her early song, “Drag Queens in Limousines” as the first song she ever won an award for – the award was for Best Gay Country Artist – which she admitted was not a hotly contested category. She drew laughs when she described her mother’s three word reaction to her winning the award, “Jesus Christ Mary”. She said her mother struggled with a lot of aspects of her life, only coming to terms when Mary did a show with Willie Nelson and her mother got to meet Willie backstage. Gauthier closed out the main set with the devastatingly hopeful, “Another Train” from Trouble and Love.
After performing her best known song, “Mercy Now” and referencing Friday’s Supreme Court decision regarding Marriage Equality, Gauthier lead a rousing and timely rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” which remains as timely a song today as it was when it was written.