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Mercy me, it's Mary Gauthier finally

By Brian Baker, March 2005

The circuitous and tortuous path to this point in Mary Gauthier's life is so fantastically improbable that it almost borders on Dickensian fiction. As a preamble to her restless early life, she ran away from her Baton Rouge, La. home as a teenager and experienced homelessness, drugs and alcohol, jail and detox, all before she turned 18.

Overcoming that, Gauthier (as in Go-shay) began her college career at Louisiana State as a philosophy major, but her drugging had long since resumed, and the pressures of both forced her from school in her senior year. She relocated to Boston where she moved through a mind-numbing succession of jobs that nobody else would take before winding up as a counter waitress at a small cafe.

Although still hopelessly drug-addicted and drinking, she became the cafe's manager and somehow found monetary assistance to attend classes at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. Upon her graduation, Gauthier conceived the idea for a Cajun restaurant in Boston's Back Bay area.

With financial partnership in place, Gauthier opened Dixie Kitchen to rousing local acclaim. Although the restaurant's success was a grounding experience, the banality of its day-to-day operation began to wear her down. After spending more than half her life dependent on drugs and alcohol, Gauthier finally kicked her habits and stayed clean, but her sobriety brought a most unexpected consequence.

Gauthier began writing songs, her first songs, at the non-prodigy age of 35. Soon her songwriting activities began to eclipse her restaurant duties and in 1997, she released her debut CD, named after the restaurant that had been the springboard to her success. "Dixie Kitchen" ultimately garnered Gauthier a nomination for Best New Contemporary Folk Artist in the Boston Music Awards, an almost unheard of feat in Beantown's densely populated folk scene.

Armed with the confidence that she had found an audience in one of the toughest folk communities in the country, Gauthier began dividing her time between Boston and Nashville, attending songwriting workshops and perfecting her craft while rustling up as many local live gigs as her schedule would allow.

Within two years, Gauthier had made up her mind to make a radical change in her life. She sold her stake in the restaurant to her partners and used the money to bankroll her sophomore album, "Drag Queens in Limousines."

Positively glowing reviews in Rolling Stone, Mojo, Q and many others catapulted Gauthier into the folk spotlight; she took home an Independent Music Award for Country Artist of the Year by the Gay & Lesbian American Music Awards and launched an extensive touring schedule on the folk circuit here and abroad that kept her busy for the better part of the next two years.

Gauthier's third album, 2002's "Filth & Fire," became her most lauded work yet, earning her the Freeform American Roots poll's top female artist of the year honors.

After more widespread touring duties and a nearly three-year gap, Gauthier finally gathered her thoughts long enough to start thinking about her fourth album. With the pitfalls in mind, she began working on the material that would comprise "Mercy Now," also her Lost Highway debut. As relatively successful as her work to date has been, Gauthier is still cautious enough to approach each album on its own terms.

"You write these songs, and you go into the studio and record it, and you throw the record out, and there's no way to know if people are even going to notice," says Gauthier from her Nashville home. "Is it going to stick? Are people gonna hate it? Are people gonna like it? I never know. I think the thing I learned from my producer Gurf (Morlix) a couple of records ago is, 'Let's make a record we love and that we can live with for the rest of our lives.' That way, no matter what anyone else says, we know we love it, and we can live with it."

Gauthier gives a great deal of credit to Morlix, who has been behind the boards for her since her second album. As she notes, his expertise goes well beyond a mere production role.

"He's a wise guy, he's been out there awhile," says Gauthier sincerely. "He knows the game, and he's taught me so much, like spiritual things aside from spinning the dials and getting a sound. It really is a spiritual process learning how to be an artist in a marketplace. Where are you going to put the emphasis, on the artist or the marketplace? He's all for putting the emphasis on the artist, and that's why he's so damn good. I deeply trust him and respect him, and he's very gentle and kind, which are two things that, as I've grown older, I have come to value more and more. It seems so obvious, but not everybody is gentle and kind, you know? I'm fragile. I know I seem like a streetwise tough kid, but I'm fragile."

It's clear from the results on "Mercy Now" that Morlix and Gauthier are a matched set. Their long history together has yielded one of the best albums in Gauthier's catalog, a considerable accomplishment in light of her astonishing work to date.

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