thu 07/07/2022

Album: Mary Gauthier - Dark Enough to See the Stars | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Mary Gauthier - Dark Enough to See the Stars

Album: Mary Gauthier - Dark Enough to See the Stars

Intimate, direct and straight from the heart, Gauthier catches the sound of empathy

Hard truths, homespun philosophy

“Songs are what feelings sound like,” Mary Gauthier told medics from Brigham & Women’s Hospital as she participated in the Frontline Songs post-Covid initiative that aimed to help doctors, nurses and first responders process their pandemic trauma. No stranger to loss and trauma herself, Gauthier had earlier worked with Songwriting with Soldiers, a programme that led to her last (Grammy-nominated) album, Rifles and Rosary Beads (2018).

Gauthier’s ninth studio outing, Dark Enough to See the Stars, is as empathetic as anything she’s written. Music in its highest form, she believes, “is empathy. That experience of knowing what it’s like to be someone else for a short moment in time and knowing that you and that someone else have a common bond of humanity that transcends everything that we think separates us.” It’s hard not to feel that common bond, a kinship with someone who sings so honestly and so plainly – Gauthier’s is not a particularly remarkable voice or a particularly beautiful one, but that’s what makes it so appealing. It’s intimate, direct, straight from the heart: the cracked and comforting voice of an old friend reaching out in the darkness, offering hard truths and homespun philosophy.

The title is taken from Dr Martin Luther King’s last speech, the “Mountaintop” address he gave in Memphis just a few hours before he was shot. Whether or not we can see the stars depends on where we are, geographically and metaphorically, but “Dark Enough to See the Stars”, co-written with Beth Nielsen Chapman, bowls along optimistically, propelled by simple finger-picking and the sort of chord progression with which John Prine would feel comfortable. Piano and a wonderfully resonant electric guitar solo serve to burn the song into the brain.

Prine, who tragically died early in the pandemic, is one of several old friends whose losses permeate the album. Who knows whose passing Gauthier is mourning in “How Could You Be Gone?” but the stark imagery and howl of incomprehension perfectly express what many of us have been through. There is no answer, no resolution, just the repeated question and the music building relentlessly to a climax. “About Time”, with its striking imagery of “candlestick fingers” and Gauthier’s voice pushed to its lower limit, reminds us of memory’s blessings and the unfathomability of time.

Closing the album “Truckers and Troubadours”, with its Dylanesque harmonica and a swirling Hammond of which Al Kooper would be proud, leaves us with that most enduring of metaphors, the road. We’re “always just passing through. Sometimes it’s heaven, sometimes it’s hell.” It serves as well as anything else, and Gauthier’s world-weary yet beguiling voice is its perfect expression.

Liz Thomson's website

Gauthier’s is not a particularly remarkable voice or a particularly beautiful one, but that’s what makes it so appealing

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