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Mary Gauthier | Drag Queens In Limousines (Munich Records)
Truly gifted female Country artists are falling out of the sky, it seems â?? Shelby Lynne, Neko Case, Laura Cantrell, Suzie Ungerleider â?? and now, Mary Gauthier (which, she is at pains to point out, is pronounced go-shay). Of course, many of the new vanguard of Country women have recorded history, so we have those of an undiscussed age now embracing the music as they once embraced Punk, to thank for their emergence. The word is finally out, and reaching the discernible. As Country nudges ever nearer mainstream acceptance in the UK, the likes of Mary Gauthier CDs will be purchased naturally alongside the Nirvana back catalogue and a latest Flaming Lips offering. The reason for this is quite simply that, more and more, Country and Folk based music is providing the visceral experience that perhaps only Nick Cave and a few others are capable of providing in the contemporary 'Rock' arena. Drag Queens In Limousines is Gauthier's second album (finally out in Europe, a year on from its US release), and with its breathtaking beauty and desperate emotions, seals her arrival as a major player. Despite the infancy of her new profession, her music is already of a maturity that only a life such as hers could have borne. The lyrics are largely, if not entirely, autobiographical and scanning them in advance of a first listen to this album would bear out that they are, in the main, the stuff of us all. But it is the way that they are conveyed that brings on the shakes. Gauthier's voice ranges from a dry, partly spoken sigh of resignation to full-on tears-in-yer-beer powerhouse. Backed by a subtle band as in tune with the narrator's needs as The E-Street Band or, indeed, The Bad Seeds, Gauthier immediately pulls us into part of her murky past on the opening title track. Having fled from her home in Thibodaux, Louisiana aged 15, she found a nomadic solace in the warmth and acceptance of society's lost and fringe dwellers; it is this period of her life that is proudly related here. In Karla Faye, Gauthier takes on the true story of the tragic junkie Karla Faye Tucker, put to death by the State of Texas in 1998 after 15 years on Death Row. Whist acknowledging Tucker's crimes, she takes an empathic stance in there-but-for-the-Grace terms, but there is also great rage at that particular areas' Draconian penal system â?? so paradoxical when expressed in such a pretty tune. The following I Drink is the point at which producer and guitarist Crit Harmon's great band begins to demonstrate its prowess and sensitivity. It's a classic 'demon drink' ballad, drawing on Gauthier's troubled early home life, and a defiant confessional that, as her father did, so does she, and that's the way it is â?? "Fish swim / Birds fly / Daddy's yell / Mama's cry / Old men sit and think / I drink" she explains. As you'll be gathering, this lady has had problems. There's been detox and jail and mayhem, but there has been more conventional turmoil as a result of what the majority of us experience at some point â?? the end of the affair. On that theme, I defy anyone that has been in such circumstances to remain dry-eyed during the three-pronged emotional assault of Lucky Stars, Different Kind of Gone, and Slip of The Tongue. Whilst the latter speaks eloquently of the fallout of illicit passion, the others examine the need for identity and freedom, as love turns sour. Then the party really kicks in with a song about death. Lifetime is one of those death songs that assist in combating fear of the inevitable, and it's delightful. It's a telephone conversation between Gauthier and her mother that is an affirming toast to mortality, with a bouncy chorus. So, those are the high points, but in truth the closing celebration (or possibly, considering what has preceded it, condemnation) of rural existence, Jackie's Train, is all that disappoints. I am trusting that Mary Gauthier's expressive narratives and melodic talents will be the channel of exorcism she has needed for so long; that there will be a happy ending. After so much trauma, she found enough in her culinary skills to eventually open what was to become an award winning Boston restaurant â?? and then sold it, risking all to pursue her dream of making music. Drag Queens In Limousines proves to be no risk, but does challenge existing superlatives. This is state-of-the-art Country-Noir.
CWAS #8 - Summer 2001