Mary Gauthier “Dark Enough To See The Stars”

Thirty Tigers, 2022

Love and Grief on an album of open emotion.

Mary Gauthier is known for her uncompromising songs – often of heartbreak or hard times in one form or another – often delivered in a forthrightly direct way. We know what to expect from Mary Gauthier – if you wanted a short hand you might say songs in the manner of Steve Earle, and dealing with issues arising from her adoption and her alcoholic adopted father, her own substance abuse, and being gay in a time that did not like that. Add in left of centre politics and the usual accretion of troubles that any life gathers and you have a singer not known perhaps for wearing a party hat. So you know Mary Gauthier. Only you don’t. ‘Dark Enough to See the Stars‘ gives us a whole other side to Mary Gauthier with the album opening with songs of the love and the contentment that she has found with Jaimee Harris. Opener, the folk-rock shuffler ‘Fall Apart World‘ sets the scene as Gauthier sweetly sings “walking around with a big smile / been such a long while / how’d you’d find me / how’d you know?” going on to declare “you’re my girl / in this broken heart fall apart world.” How happy and contented and full of love is ‘Fall Apart World‘? Well, let’s put it this way – imagine an end of Rom-Com recap montage which melts into the final scene of the happy couple taking to the dance floor for their first dance – that’s where by rights this song belongs.  And with that let’s just emphasize that this is a song devoid of saccharine. This is all natural honey dripping sweetness and genuinely organic joy.

This is followed up with the delightfully joyful ‘Amsterdam‘, a co-write with Jaimee Harris, which outdoes Dylan in its summation of the streets and canals of the city in terse half-sentences warmly delivered in a remembrance of a perfect moment “alright, feeling alright, in Amsterdam tonight“.   Even the reflection that this can’t last forever and that maybe there’ll be less happy times “none of this is gonna last / All of it is gonna pass / But I look into your eyes and see / I got everything I’ll ever need” is flooded with a warmth of acceptance – because this moment can never be erased.  Another song surely heading for a suitable movie.  ‘Thank God For You‘ caps a trio of love songs, here a paean to love as redemption as Gauthier contrasts her earlier life of being “just another junkie jonesing on a Greyhound bus” to her present situation with someone who “saw through me and loved me anyway.

Having set a certain groove of contentment ‘Dark Enough To See The Stars‘ now takes a side path into grief with the first of several songs dealing with the loss of loved ones in recent years – and Gauthier has highlighted John Prine, David Olney, Nanci Griffith, and her beloved friend Betsy although neither here nor on later songs is a direct attribution of the inspiration given.  ‘How Could You Be Gone‘ draws on the emotions of a particular funeral – the scene and Gauthier’s thoughts and emotions described over a driving acoustic riff, punctuated by a violin solo offering a desperate emotional spike that is, finally, unbearable “I walk alone back to my car / I go before the goodbyes start / I’ve always been this way / You were the only one who could make me stay / How could you be gone?”  It’s a powerful and affecting song.  As is the title song, which was cowritten with Beth Nielsen Chapman, which weaves a somewhat ambiguous path between those two themes of the album – Love and Grief – it could be about either, the mourning of a love that has passed or the mourning of a loved one.   Either way there are memories and grieving.

It’s love though that dominates in the end – ‘Truckers and Troubadours‘ compares the travelling lives of the two occupations and finds that they both lose on the contentment that awaits in a home , ‘Till I See You Again‘ is a gentle ballad of longing for someone who is far away (and, yes. there’s room for ambiguity on the nature of the separation here too) whilst ‘The Meadow‘ is full of wistful desire for the one who completes you “Won’t you meet me in the meadow? / No more alone / we could lay down in the grass / Until the feelings pass / then go home.

So, no political angst, no anger, although there’s a lot of sorrow.  But there’s love as a compensation, with Jaimee Harris cementing that emotion by adding the harmony vocals all through the album.  It’s lovely – and if that’s not what you’re expecting from Mary Gauthier just reflect that she’s as deserving of happiness as any other poor soul on this god forsaken planet.  If you suspect that you’re affected by human emotion then you may well want to take a listen to this album.


About Jonathan Aird 2700 Articles
Sure, I could climb high in a tree, or go to Skye on my holiday. I could be happy. All I really want is the excitement of first hearing The Byrds, the amazement of decades of Dylan's music, or the thrill of seeing a band like The Long Ryders live. That's not much to ask, is it?
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