In a recent interview, Mary Gauthier said that she wrote 35-40 new songs, but she only recorded eight of them for her latest release. She likes to keep things tight, which she successfully does on Trouble & Love. Gauthier compresses what happens when a relationship ends, the pain and the eventual healing, into less than 40 minutes of heartfelt intensity. She’s unflinchingly honest in terms of the brutal nature of one’s feelings, but you have to wonder. Anyone who has seen or heard Gauthier before knows that she’s able to bring out the humor in the pathos. No matter how bleak things get, she still could laugh about the predicaments her characters found themselves in: prison, homelessness, abuse, desertion. These seem much worse than the end of love, but there is no humor here. Perhaps she needed to shoehorn one more song in that laughs at the absurdity of it all.
That said, Gauthier knows how to write and deliver a killer song. She uses a sharp knife to make one bleed with empathy, and Gauthier’s weapon of choice is the well-chosen word or phrase. She describes a lover whose lost her desire as “Ain’t no mercy in her soul / when a woman’s gone cold,” love and trust as “crumbled streets, headlights, broken glass, twisted steel, sirens and blood,” and the inability to tell truth from lies with the question “How did love turn into this?” While these allusions may not be clear without the rest of the context, the deep dark sting of love gone cold comes across clearly.
Gauthier goes as far as to proclaim she has bartered her soul for nothing and goes to Robert Johnson’s grave to get it back. She’s joined by country singer songwriter Darrell Scott on this tune, “Oh Soul”, in which she proclaims, “It started with desire’s sweet soft kiss / It ended in an alley with my face against a fist / Oh soul, I sold you away.” Even worse for her is that she no longer feels “Worthy” of love, but just feels alone and trying to survive. This is bleak stuff, even as there is a note of hopefulness in Gauthier’s crooning. She wants to be “Worthy”, but stumbles further instead.
As the record goes on, Gauthier realizes she has to let go of what she cannot change (“Walking Each Other Home”) and claims not to blame the other person. “It’s only human to take more than you give,” she sings in a half whimper/half sneer. She proclaims she’s over it (“How You Learn To Live Alone”, co-written with Gretchen Peters), but it’s clear that she’s lost. “You fall asleep in motion / in an uncharted hemisphere,” Gauthier sings. She offers the façade of a happy ending. On the last song, Gauthier announces she’s moving on, but that’s just the surface. It doesn’t feel that way. She’s like that old lover who calls you just to say she’s fine, but you know she’s not and she knows she shouldn’t have called, etc.
So the album’s a bummer. It will jerk you out of a happy mood into sadness. It will turn a blue day into an even bluer one. It’s also excellently executed and delivered. Gauthier’s detailed, insightful lyrics and powerfully emotive delivery makes one want to hurt.
"PopMatters is looking for smart music writers. We're looking for talented writers with deep genre knowledge of music and its present and…READ the article