Singer/songwriters may be a dime a dozen, but comparisons to Townes Van Zandt are nothing if not hard-earned. To evoke the swirl of addiction, redemption, and raw feeling that lives in the songs of the troubled Texas artist, you have to know such material firsthand. For Nashville-based, Louisiana-born singer/songwriter Mary Gauthier, that is so: Both artists are battle-tested storytellers who share a similar weathered grain in their voices and equally unhappy histories (she was an orphan who ran away from her adoptive family, turned to drugs and alcohol to deal with her sexuality, and spent her 18th birthday in jail).
Van Zandt sadly never conquered his addictions, and died at 52 from complications due to substance abuse. Gauthier, on the other hand, 23 years sober, has grown into an inimitable artist in her own right, using her history of abuse as leverage, not a crutch. In a recent phone call, Gauthier explains, “Being in recovery has given me the gift of music; it’s what makes the [creative] process possible.”
With sobriety propelling her forward, Gauthier has steadily amassed a catalog of, so far, eight full-length albums—most recently Live at Blue Rock, an intimate “career retrospective” that launched an especially busy year for the self-called “troubadour.” The album, she says, is finally starting to catapult her further into the spotlight. “I’ve had 200 tour dates so far this year,” Gauthier says. “I’m deeply grateful that the opportunities continue to come, and that things seem to be building. I’ve been out here a while now. The dots are starting to connect.”
Some of those dots, so to speak, are Gauthier’s gut-twisting, tear-jerking “I Drink,” “Mercy Now,” and “Karla Faye”: fine examples of her ability to render tales inspired by dark themes that are somehow elevated to a place of reason, waiting for careful consideration whenever you care to listen. Like Van Zandt’s, Gauthier’s characters are conflicted, her topics often torturous, but her music suspends them in a place where, if decency fails to deliver them in life, they find a small amount of grace.