It's records like this that justify Nashville's existence as a music town.
Baton Rouge-bred Mary Gauthier (pronounced "Go-shay") is often compared to Lucinda Williams, but that's a superficial likeness based mainly on the fact that both women have pronounced drawls and play Americana music. Gauthier comes across as one of the doomed characters in one of Williams's songs, somehow escaped to sing her own version of events. Where Williams's songs are often dark, they're usually about someone else; Gauthier's honest tales of the abyss come from events in her own often harrowing previous life. (After drinking and drugging for more than half of her 35 years, she gave up the goat dance about a decade ago.) And where Williams likes to dabble in Southern Pentecostal imagery, Gauthier shades some of her songs with Cajun Catholic tinges.
This is most obvious on Mercy Now's title track, in which Gauthier manages to finally forgive the people and things she has raged against her whole life. The list includes her father, her brother, the Catholic Church, the USA, and hell, me, you and the pigeons in the park. "I love life, and life itself could use some mercy now," she concludes wearily over Gurf Morlix's sparse acoustic guitar-led, cello-tinged arrangement.
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Elsewhere, the achingly sad "I Drink" reads exactly like one of Charles Bukowski's resigned-to-the-bottle rooming-house madrigals ("Fish swim / Birds fly / Daddies yell / Mamas cry / Old men / Sit and think / I drink"), and at album's close, the hard-charging mid-tempo rocker "It Ain't the Rain, It's the Wind" shows she's still got the blues way down in the marrow of her bones: "I was born lonesome and I'm lonesome still / Ain't nothing you done ever changed how I feel."
Tough, brave stuff. And it seems almost a sacrilege to say so, given Gauthier's now-whipped chemical dependencies, but this is a difficult album to get through without a little of whatever it is that gets you through the night. She says in her bio that she couldn't write songs while she was drinking and drugging, but that they came like a torrent once she quit. The irony here is that it's now hard for the rest of us to listen to her stuff without reaching for the medicine jar.
For Gauthier -- and precious few others -- her only drug is the uncut truth. And if we can't deal with that, it's our problem, not hers. She's dealt with it already.
Mary Gauthier appears Friday, July 8, at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, 713-528-5999.