Published May 12, 2010Much-revered American roots songstress Mary Gauthier is renowned for drawing upon her earlier troubled life in her songs, but never as overtly as here. Lyrically, this can be seen as a concept album, rooted in the fact that she was adopted at birth, a "foundling." Her songs dig deep, exploring feelings of abandonment with lyrics like, "I don't know if she ever held me, all I know is she let go of me" (from "Goodbye"). The result is a record that's sometimes harrowing to listen to, as on "Mama Here, Mama Gone," but Gauthier and producer Michael Timmins (with the help of an A-list Canadian cast, including Margo Timmins, Garth Hudson and Josh Finlayson) add enough musical variety to keep it from becoming mired in melancholy. There's a New Orleans carnival vibe to "Sideshow," for instance, while the title track has a waltz feel, fuelled by violin and accordion. Violin is especially effective here, adding an abrasive edge to the intense "Blood Is Blood" and haunting atmosphere to "March 11, 1962," for instance. Gauthier's vocals are as emotionally convincing as ever, enabling her to paint her story in vivid colours. Thankfully, she shines a light into the often-dark tunnel of this journey via her declaration of "I still believe in love." This is a courageous work.
Any misgivings about taking this nakedly autobiographical approach?
I've always written about my experiences and I feel comfortable telling my story. I think I instinctively know that while this is my story, I'm not unique. When I connect with people and they get tears in their eyes, they're not crying for my pain. It is a human story. As artists, it's our job to put our stories out there so that other people can see themselves reflected back to themselves and feel as though they're not alone. And, ultimately, I'm just saving myself by telling my story.
There's a strong Toronto component on the record.
Absolutely. I made it in Toronto with Michael Timmins producing, and almost all the artists on the record are Canadian. I'd been very aware of the Cowboy Junkies' work for over 20 years. Michael's approach as a producer is that less is more. He is really careful not to over-produce, and I really appreciate that. I went in with the voice and guitar, just raw bones, and we figured it out together. He put together the rhythm section and we figured out how to flesh them out. (Razor & Tie)