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Mary Gauthier looks at life between daylight and dark

By Dan MacIntosh, October 2007

Mary Gauthier is a restless spirit. But when it comes to singer/songwriters, these restless ones are usually best qualified for the job. They're always searching, but rarely finding a soft place to land. And it is a sad truth, at least within the artist/audience dynamic, that their pain is oftentimes our gain; trials and troubles are many times raw material for wonderful songs.

Gauthier's new CD, "Between Daylight and Dark," (Lost Highway) is packed with many painfully beautiful songs. It's obvious she has strong New Orleans roots, as many of this new disc's songs draw upon those roots - especially with regard to Katrina's horrific affect on her beloved city.

One song in particular, "Can't Find the Way," appears to be pointedly informed by the Katrina tragedy.

"It was inspired by Katrina, but it is also just about the sense of trying to find home," Gauthier explains. "I mean, there's a sense of immediate loss with the people who lost everything in New Orleans and who are spread all over the place; they've got no home to go to. But then there's also a lot of people who wander around and have a house, but they don't have a home. So that's what I was tying to get at with that."

When asked if Gauthier has found home yet, she doesn't hesitate to answer "no."

"I'm just wandering," she replies.

Gauthier has been a wanderer for a long time. At 15, the Louisiana native split from home, stealing her parents' car. Life wasn't pretty with drug rehabilitation, halfway houses and living with friends.

Gauthier straightened out enough to attend Louisiana State University as a philosophy major, but she dropped out after five years there and moved to Boston. After working waitress jobs and eventually being promoted to manager of the restaurant where she worked, financial supporters paid her way to attend the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts.

Gauthier opened a Cajun restaurant in Boston's Back Bay section, Dixie Kitchen, but got more and more interested in music.

She wrote her first song at age 35. After the release of her debut, "Dixie Kitchen" in 1997, she sold her share in the restaurant to finance her second album, "Drag Queens in Limousines" (1999). "Filth & Fire" followed in 2002. All were on the respected western Massachusetts label Signature Sounds.

Gauthier eventually left Boston for Nashville, signing with Lost Highway, which released "Mercy Now" in 2005.

"I think most musicians wander." Even so, this is not true for all musicians, Gauthier clarifies, "I know people who have a family and a sense of community and who are really plugged in to their version of home. They don't have this feeling. But to be honest with you, most of the songwriters that I love, we all have this feeling."

Many of the songwriters Gauthier admires most can be found loosely within or just outside the country realm.

"Well, I think of people, the restless souls like Willie and all those outlaw guys that I just love," says Gauthier, 45. "Townes and Guy. Steve Earle. Waylon Jennings when he was alive. Certainly Merle Haggard still carries that restlessness. My buddy up in Canada, Fred Eaglesmith. It's kind of a man thing, but I have it. I feel it."

There aren't as many women, like Gauthier, who have this rootless disease. But Lucinda Williams is an obvious 'other one' that comes immediately to mind. "She's got it in spades," says Gauthier. "She moves around more than most. She's still trying to find that root. That place."

Gauthier's mobility may be hell on a stable home life, but it mirrors her boundless imagination, which branches out in the most delightful way. For instance, one new song, "Snakebit," inhabits the thoughts of a man at wit's end. He's been beaten down by life for far too long, and now he's going to get some measure of revenge.

"I kinda had to put myself in a trance to get to that character," she elaborates. "I had to keep digging deeper and deeper and deeper to find it. In my mind, it's a 'him.' It's not necessarily a 'him'; that's just what I was thinking when I was writing him because certainly there's a whole lot of me in there too."

"That person has been pushed around and has been pulled around and has reached a point where something really bad is going to happen."

"This song is trying to get into the mental status of someone who's fixing to do something really bad. Everybody who ends up in those situations has a story. As soon as you try to tell the story, if you do it in a way that is justifying, then those are just excuses. And they don't become a story anymore; they just become excuses. As a writer, I'm more interested in the story. It doesn't remove guilt or culpability, it's just: here's the story."

When songwriters venture into the minds of social deviants, like the time bomb in "Snakebit," this can be a scary place.

"I try to get into the character's thinking and try to understand it," Gauthier explains, "because it's not that far from your thinking. It's frighteningly close."

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