Artists talk a lot about how they've been waiting to make an album their whole life, but in the case of Mary Gauthier's The Foundling (Razor & Tie), she really had. The mostly acoustic record (produced by Cowboy Junkies' Michael Timmins) spans 13 songs to tell the story of a child who, like Gauthier herself, was given up for adoption, raised in an orphanage and foster home, and eventually tracked down her birth mother for a difficult conversation.
Although the tempo picks up a bit for bluegrass ramble "Goodbye" and Dixieland march "Sideshow," the lyrics' emotional weight does not lift. "A tune for every body blow," she sings on "Sideshow," and those body blows are plentiful.
Gauthier, who began singing at Boston-area coffeehouses in the mid-'90s after running Back Bay soul-food restaurant Dixie Kitchen for several years, took two years to make the album. Last week Chatter spoke with the Louisiana native from her home in Nashville shortly before she performed at the annual Americana Music Conference, where she won Best New/Emerging Artist in 2005.
6 p.m. Sunday, September 12, at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, 713-528-5999 or www.mcgonigels.com.
Chatter: Would you describe The Foundling as a concept album?
Mary Gauthier: More of a song cycle, a series of songs having to do with a particular topic.
C: In the notes, you said that finally locating your birth mother gave the songs an emo- tional center. How so?
MG: It turned the question mark I had into an answer. It wasn't the answer I wanted, but it was an answer. The answer was "no," but it was actually better than a question mark. The emotional center was grief, and grief has a beginning, a middle and an end, so I had to work my way through it.
C: Was there one song on this album that was a key that unlocked all the other ones?
MG: I wish there was. Each one came at its own pace, and it was a very slow pace [and] a challenge to know where to go next. I really had to do a lot of going down the wrong street to find my way to the right one.
C: How would you say the character of the foundling changes throughout the album?
MG: I see a spiritual growth, a sense of increasing possibility instead of decreasing. I see a character who wasn't comfortable living in the unknown, then had to accept the answer "no" when her story became known — the answer she was looking for from her birth mother of course was "yes, I'd love to meet you," but the answer that we got was "no." So as difficult as that was, it allows for growth and movement toward some resolution.
C: Explain how you used Willie Nelson's Red Headed Stranger as a "compass" to make this album.
MG: I love that record. That record's just a timeless work of art — beautiful, beautiful, simple record. It tells the story of one man whose life is a challenge: The guy's wife is cheating on him, and he kills her, and he kills her lover. Then he has to go out into the desert like Christ and find his way back home.
The way that Willie told it was so compelling. It showed me that you can tell a very hard story, and in the end, when the redemption comes, it's so much more meaningful than if the story was told in a way that was more surface-level and not nearly as challenging.
As the house photographer for Rockefeller's, Steve Harris captured musicians such as Joe Ely, Richard Thompson, Warren Zevon, Jimmie Vaughan and Kris Kristofferson in stark black and white as they went about their business everywhere from backstage to the parking lot. Now Harris, a graduate of Paris's Parsons School of Design who published his first book, Texas Troubadors, in 2007, has compiled his best shots from his tenure at the legendary Washington Avenue music hall into "Rockefeller's: A Visual History." The exhibit will be on display in Cactus Music's Record Ranch room for the next several weeks, and opens with an artist's reception from 7-10 p.m. Saturday, September 11.
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1. Pearl, Little Immaculate White Fox
2. Dead Confederate, Sugar
3. Shinyribs, Well After Awhile
4. Ra Ra Riot, Orchard
5. Futurebirds, Hampton's Lullaby
6. John Mellencamp, No Better Than This
7. Los Skarnales, Dále Shine!
8. The Black Keys, Brothers
9. The Sword, Warp Riders
10. Los Lobos, Tin Can Trust
1. Nicki Minaj, "Your Love"
2. Usher, "There Goes My Baby"
3. Alicia Keys, "Un-Thinkable (I'm Ready)"
4. T.I. feat. Keri Hilson, "Got Your Back"
5. Bun B feat. T-Pain, "Trillionaire"
6. Ciara feat. Ludacris, "Ride"
7. Rick Ross feat. Styles P, "Blowin' Money Fast (BMF)"
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8. Drake feat. Lil Wayne, "Miss Me"
9. Young Jeezy feat. Plies, "Lose My Mind"
10. Chris Brown & Tyga, "Deuces"
(lists compiled by Chris Gray)