Perhaps you heard a few snippets of this week’s Mary Gauthier conversation on my Sunday Morning programme. If not you will be able to hear all of that and more on this week’s Another Country.
I found myself thinking a lot about Mary over the last week or so. It feels like Mary’s travelled with us since the very start. A visitor in our first year on air during Celtic Connections, I knew very early on I wanted to hang out with that Mary Gauthier. Then (2009) she told me stories of how she’d cooked in a restaurant before turning her attention to making sense of the songs in her head. She switched careers from cooking to singing in her thirties and embarked on a career telling amazing true stories in her songs.
Here we are when we first met….
And our latest encounter….
Mary gave up drinking a long time ago but her most famous song, ‘I Drink’ is a perfect description of the honesty required in quitting addiction. The song is an anthem for Mary and has also been memorably covered by Bobby Bare and Tim McGraw. Mary cooked and worked simultaneously for a good few years before finally selling up her share in the Dixie Kitchen restaurant to finance making her second album ‘Drag Queens and Limousines.’
The Dixie Kitchen alluded to Mary’s real roots in Louisiana. Her first home was in New Orleans nevertheless it’s a place for which Mary feels little attachment. ‘It’s a party town’ Mary replied when I asked if she went back to perform, ‘People don’t want to listen.’ Listening is the key here. If you want to understand and love Mary’s music it will take time and a quiet space, but it will be more than worth it.
I learned this in 2011 when she released ‘The Foundling’. I remember walking round the park and listening intently on my iPod as the story unfolded of Mary’s search for her own birth mother. It’s a heartbreaking story with no real happy ending, but an album over which it is so worthwhile taking time. In the same category you can put the follow up: ‘Trouble and Love.’ Your heart will get broken in a million places but you’ll know you’ve been listening to the truth. It’s then you remember Rolling Stone voted Mary’s ‘Mercy Now’ one of the 40 saddest country songs of all time, and let’s be honest, there’s some tough competition in that category.
Mary came back in a couple of weeks ago when she was in Glasgow to play at St Luke’s on her current tour. She talked of her the times she’s been spending writing songs with soldiers and how well the record has been received by the press, the soldiers themselves and by the public. Again there’s some heartbreak…it wouldn’t be Mary without that…but there’s also a sense of Mary successfully articulating each story she heard on the writing camps and doing what great folk singers always do, passing it on.
On this week’s Another Country you can hear Mary in conversation and in session as she re-imagines some of the songs from ‘Rifles and Rosary Beads’, her current album of songs co-written with wounded veterans. We’ll celebrate Mary’s wider back catalogue and play some great people covering her songs. It’s going to be another fine night and it all kicks off at five past nine this Tuesday evening on BBC Radio Scotland.