Mary Gauthier is `Between Daylight and Dark'

Glenn Gamboa
Newsday (MCT)

Mary Gauthier is only starting to understand what all the fuss is about.

Though for years the Louisiana native has been gathering fans and critical acclaim with her poetic Americana tales, steeped in her folk and country roots, she only recently realized she still wasn't totally comfortable with her role as a singer-songwriter.

"I've always seen myself as a writer who sings," said Gauthier, calling from a tour stop in Ashland, Va. "I still have to remind myself to relax, find the note and sing it. I'm definitely more comfortable singing now."

The change came during the recording of her new album "Between Daylight and Dark" (Lost Highway), mainly because she didn't really have the time to worry about it.

"We only had a week, so it was, `Do it or don't,'" Gauthier said, laughing. "The album was essentially done live. We all played together in unison. They recorded my singing while the band was playing and I was more able to relax. It was more spontaneous and I was much less worried. I just trusted the band."

That trust paid off on "Between Daylight and Dark," as Gauthier, with the help of producer Joe Henry, has built the most fully formed musical arrangements of her career to go along with her most confident vocals. The new musical backdrop makes her poetic, dramatic lyrics - about the darker side of life, about broken hearts and loss, about struggle - all the more powerful.

All of that comes together on "Can't Find the Way," which is reminiscent of Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" musically with less hope and more frustration lyrically, as Gauthier simply sings, "Another night, another day, we want to go home, we can't find the way."

"That song was inspired by what happened in New Orleans when the levees failed, but it was also about the feeling, about not quite feeling at home here," Gauthier said. "That feeling has been all through the history of country music, through the Carter Family and Woody Guthrie. It's one of the anchors of folk music, the feeling of alienation, and it can be universal. I was using the hurricane to get to it."

"Can't Find the Way" is also another example of a shift in Gauthier's songwriting, as she starts to focus on telling the stories of other people, as well as her own. "It's pretty hard to know where the line is," she said. "There's always some of me in there, even if it's not directly autobiographical, even if it's not about me on Tuesday. But I'm finding that I can relate to other people's stories more now."

And, Gauthier said, laughing, she is not as downbeat as her songs would suggest. "I am someone who tends to write in minor keys, but I'm not a particularly somber person," she said. "I have a muse and she tells me where to go. I'm kind of taking orders that way."

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