Live Review: Mary Gauthier + Jaimee Harris, The Metronome, Nottingham – 21st April 2024

Mary Gauthier + Jaimee Harris live at The Metronome, Nottingham, - 21st April, 2024
photo: Graeme Tait

This evening’s performance took place at The Metronome, which, since it first opened its doors back in October 2018, has fast become one of the best venues in the city of Nottingham which throughout the years has had such a strong tradition with live music. The succession of great americana music for the local audience to enjoy can be traced back another twenty years to 1998 and attributed to ‘Cosmic American Music’, a Nottingham-based music promoter formed by James Windsor in a deliberate attempt to attract some of the finest Americana acts to the East Midlands. Today, with the support of a great team of like-minded people, ‘Cosmic American Music’, have booked close on a thousand shows in the Nottingham area across a network of venues of which tonight’s setting would be among the largest, capable of comfortably seating a good few hundred people.

It was a testament to how highly tonight’s headliner is held that, well before the doors were due to open at 7.00pm, the queue for entrance stretched well down the street, everyone keen to obtain seats closest to the stage, though to be fair, with its sloping floor, every seat is guaranteed a near perfect view. Of course this heightened anticipation comes as no surprise as over the last twenty years Mary Gauthier has become recognised as one of the finest singer-songwriters of our time with a string of critically acclaimed albums, earning a Grammy nomination in 2019, as well as seeing the release of her first book ‘Saved By A Song’. Tonight Gauthier was supported by her partner, Jaimee Harris, who herself has released two exceptional albums, her most recent ‘Boomerang Town’, appearing at number 12, in AUK’s ‘Top 20 Albums for 2023’.

Jaimee Harris, live at The Metronome, Nottingham, - 21st April, 2024
photo: Graeme Tait

Proceedings got underway with Harris playing a short set, approximately 30 minutes, comprising of half a dozen songs taken from her two albums, along with a couple of new offerings one of which opened the set, appropriately entitled ‘Opening Act’. Harris’ roots lie very much in the folk tradition of storytelling through song, a craft she clearly excels at judged by the wealth of great songs that have graced her albums to date and this new number again reveals her immense talent at combining poetic lyricism with gorgeous melody. Of course her journey has not been an easy one, the scars received on the way, much like her many tattoos, are a reminder as well as a compass, of the road travelled to becoming both the person and the artist she is today, with many of her songs drawing from those experiences. The title track from her second album ‘Boomerang Town’ followed next and is a perfect example of Harris’ ability to transport her audience to the scene of the story, this time her home town of Waco, Texas, and to make them feel like they’ve known the place all their lives while ‘Snow White Knuckles’, originally from her debut release, addresses the challenges of addiction with a brutal honesty that is delivered with a combination of strength and fragility, her voice encompassing all the soulful power of Mavis Staples along with the hard-won sagacity of Emmylou Harris. ‘The Fair and Dark Haired Lad’, a co-write with the renowned musician Dirk Powell, is another song about the demon drink with its lilting melody conjuring images of Ireland’s rugged coastline, while Harris’ vocals provided just enough swagger to complete the picture.

The fact that within this relatively short set Harris chose to perform two new songs is probably an indication of how much traction her career currently has, focussing on the here and now, and though the release of any new material is currently not on the cards, there are whispers of an album of cover version focussing on female songwriter in the offering. ‘Tattoo Zoo’, the second of the new numbers, turned the spotlight on a subject close to her heart and has a hint of Gordon Lightfoot in the melody which isn’t that much of a surprise with the great and much missed Canadian songsmith being a major influence on Harris’ writing.

The first part of tonight’s show concluded with the gorgeous ‘Love Is Gonna Come Again’, Harris’s voice caressing and soothing each syllable, her eyes, partially hidden behind her red tinted glasses appear mostly closed, lost in a memory, while her striking attire looked as if it was borrowed straight out of Gram Parsons’ wardrobe, resembling the appearance of the ‘Nudie Suits’ that famously graced the cover of the debut album of the legendary Flying Burrito Brothers. By this point Harris has the audience baying for more and it is surely only a matter of time before she is back to headline her own tour.

Mary Gauthier and Jaimee Harris live at The Metronome, Nottingham - 21st April 2024
photo: Graeme Tait

Mary Gauthier has been a regular visitor to Nottingham over the years, building a strong and loyal following with most of tonight’s congregation familiar with her songs, evident by the almost euphoric response as each number is introduced. Her set starts with the title track from her 2000 album, ‘Drag Queens in Limousines’. Gauthier is clearly in good spirits, and with Harris alongside to supply the perfect vocal foil along with some delicious lyrical lines from her guitar, enriching the melody of each song, she quickly has the audience in the palm of her hand. The following two numbers keep the same running order as the previous night’s concert in Beverley, with the much lauded ‘I drink’, followed by ‘The Meadow’, the first of the tracks from her most recent album, the critically acclaimed ‘Dark Enough To See The Stars’. However, from here, Gauthier decided to mix things up a little with the first of three new song which was possibly entitled ‘The Best, Best Western Kind Of Love’, a somewhat tongue in cheek reference to a hotel chain, delivered with just enough irony and mockery to have the audience chuckling in their seats, the joy reflected by the duo on stage. The second new number was more conventional in structure, a co-write with Ben Glover entitled ‘Oh Soul’, encapsulating a distinct gospel vibe building to a spiritual crescendo with Harris’ vocals offering the perfect counterpoint to Gauthier’s heartfelt delivery.

During this tour Gauthier has been digging deep into her back catalogue, returning to songs that had not been part of her live set for years. One in particular, ‘For Rose’, originally from her ‘Filth & Fire’, album from 2002, was a definite highlight, as was ‘Another Train’, from ‘Trouble and Love’ with Harris’ contribution helping to create the impetus and tension within this wonderful track. This is followed by a crowd favourite and long-time regular in Gauthier’s live set, the fabulous ‘Last Of The Hobo Kings’, before another new track – a co-write with Country Music legend and more recently guitarist for The Eagles, Vince Gill. Entitled ‘Some Times’. the subject matter here focuses on the famous ‘Orange Blossom Special’ a deluxe passenger train that ran between New York and Miami before ceasing in 1953. Again this a wonderful example of storytelling through song, transporting the listener to another time and another place.

In 2021 Gauthier released her first book, the much acclaimed ‘Saved By A Song’, that has drawn plaudits from far and wide. Apparently Robert Plant has even sung its praise and during two breaks from the music she read short anecdotes from the book that advocated the power of song. Gauthier has also for many years been involved with the ‘Songwriting with Soldiers’ programme, a retreat set up by Darden Smith, co-writing songs with veterans and their families. One of the many positive outcomes of this collaboration was Gauthier’s Grammy-nominated album ‘Rifles & Rosary Beads’  on which the following two tracks both originally appeared. The first, ‘The War After The War’, was written with the families of some of the veterans while ‘Still On The Ride’ was co-written with a former soldier, both songs delivered here with all the heart-felt empathy that went into the writing.

Having previously toured the latest album throughout the UK, back in late 2022, this visit has been more about celebrating Gauthier’s career than album promoting, the set list, varying from night tonight, consisting of songs from across her nine studio releases. There was therefore only three songs this evening from her most recent offering, of which two appeared towards the end of the set. Firstly the title track ‘Dark Enough To See The Stars’, and for the encore the perfectly apt ‘Till I See You Again’. Dividing the two was of course the sublime ‘Mercy Now’, a song synonymous with Gauthier’s craft of saying so much with such simplistic structure and sparse narrative that few if any have bettered. A true modern day classic.

During the evening’s performance Gauthier hinted that she had finally achieved success, twenty years into a musical career that she only ventured into after her fortieth birthday, and in reality felt that the length of time was probably just about right. I have a feeling that if she asked any of the audience at tonight’s concert, or for that matter across the whole tour, the answer would have been more like “Mary, in our eyes you’ve been a success for years”. Let hope she continues to return to these shores and regale us with her wonderful songs for many years to come.

About Graeme Tait 125 Articles
Hi. I'm Graeme, a child of the sixties, eldest of three, born into a Forces family. Keen guitar player since my teens, (amateur level only), I have a wide, eclectic taste in music and an album collection that exceeds 5.000. Currently reside in the beautiful city of Lincoln.
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John Jenkins

Excellent review. Saw Mary in Liverpool and its was very inspiring on several levels x

FredArnold

Great review, Graeme. I am going on Friday to see the gig at King’s Place in London. I really like Mary Gauthier, but I think Jaimee Harris is an artist to watch. I thought Boopmerng Town was absolutely outstanding and I am really excited to see her live