Music

Mary Gauthier's 'Rifles & Rosary Beads' May Be One of 2018's Most Important Albums

Photo courtesy of All Eyes Media

Mary Gauthier's latest is an important album that gives voice to the soldiers of our ongoing wars. These stories deserve to be heard.

Rifles & Rosary Beads
Mary Gauthier

Thirty Tigers

26 Jan 2017

Mary Gauthier's Rifles & Rosary Beads may be one of the most important album releases of the year.

Simply put, anyone who claims to care about those serving in America's armed forces should listen to these deeply personal stories which transcend petty political positioning. Yes, the personal is most definitely political in these songs co-written by Mary Gauthier and an assortment of wounded veterans and their family members, and their stories should make anyone think beyond the simplistic positioning of our contemporary debates.

SongwritingWith:Soldiers is an organization founded by songwriter Darden Smith that holds retreats pairing wounded veterans with established songwriters to help them to find a voice to express their experiences and through their sharing work towards emotional and spiritual healing. Songwriters who have participated in the program include Beth Nielsen Chapman, Marshall Crenshaw, Radney Foster, and Amy Speace, and some of the songs produced have been recorded by major country artists including Willie Nelson, Trisha Yearwood, Luke Bryan, and Garth Brooks.

Mary Gauthier is a natural to serve as a contributor to this cause, her powerful autobiographical songwriting on past records addressing such topics as addiction, abandonment, and the search for meaning amidst pain. Turning her empathetic ear to the plights of others, she guides a group of veterans and their families through the composition of 11 highly effective and affecting songs. Of the experience, Gauthier writes "None of the veterans are artists. They don't write songs; they don't know that songs can be used to move trauma. Their understanding of song doesn't include that. For me, it's been the whole damn deal. Songwriting saved me. It's what I think the best songs do, help articulate the ineffable, make the invisible visible, creating resonance, so that people (including the songwriter) don't feel alone."

Album opener "Soldiering On" (co-written with marine veteran Jennifer Marino) introduces a challenge that colors the whole of the record: rebuilding a normal life and sense of reality after the hyper-realities and abnormalities of war. "I wore my uniform with honor / My service was not a sacrifice," Gauthier sings, "But what saves you in the battle / Can kill you at home." The challenge is amplified in "The War After the War" (on which Gauthier shares co-writer credits with Beth Neilsen Chapman and a collection of veterans' spouses) which gives voice to the caretakers of wounded veterans: "I serve unseen," the singer sings, giving voice to the ones so often overlooked amidst all of the sincere but sometimes misguided "Thank you for your service" well wishes, "I get no basic training / I get no purple heart."

"Bullet Holes in the Sky" (co-written with navy veteran Jamie Trent) addresses the public burden carried by veterans who often struggle with the communal need to memorialize and honor what is, for the veteran, a sometimes contradictory and conflicting experience: "They thank me for my service and wave those little flags / They genuflect on Sundays, and I know they'd send us back", Gauthier sings. It's a poignantly poetic observation that ends each chorus, the kind of metaphor that can only be created by someone who has experienced a world turned upside down when she sings of "heaven shining down on us through bullet holes in the sky. "Meanwhile, the simple, poignant "It's Her Love" (co-written with marine veteran James Dooley) pays homage to the importance of returning home to a support system that can heal amidst the otherworldly visions and dark memories.

Some of the strongest voices offered up in these songs come from women warriors. "Brothers" (co-written with army veterans Meghan Counihan and Britney Pfad) offers the poignant experiences of women soldiers at the front, facing their challenges as equals while not necessarily being given equal credit. Addressing a veteran's day service honoring "the men at arms" the singer, who has learned to cry without tears in order to fit in, asks "I was just like you when the bullets flew / I had your back, you had mine too / Brothers in arms your sisters covered you / Don't that make us your brothers too?"And in the poignant, harrowing "Iraq" (co-written with army veteran Brandy Davidson) the songwriters confront the sexual harassment and assault that female soldiers are too often subjected to amidst the stresses of war and a longstanding masculine hierarchy.

From start to finish, Rifles & Rosary Beads is a beautiful and harrowing experience telling important stories that need to be heard and pointing to still more others coming from the ongoing work being done through SongwritingWith:Soldiers.

These songs and stories are all the more important for this country's current state of disjunction and ideological separation. At a time when people have been burning football jerseys in reaction to the peaceful protests of Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players, claiming that our veterans were being disrespected, this opportunity to listen to the voices of those veterans should be embraced. It may be true that they are saying things that are hard to hear, things that go outside of the simple narratives of good versus evil that we utilize to soothe and protect ourselves, but that makes it all the more important.

Shut off the social media for an hour, and pay attention to these stories. The co-writers of these poignant and powerful songs have fought in defense of our collective freedom of speech. We should honor them by listening to their stories.

9


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Music

Hip-Hop's Raashan Ahmad Talks About His Place in 'The Sun'

On his latest work,The Sun, rapper Raashan Ahmad brings his irrepressible charisma to this set of Afrobeat-influenced hip-hop.

Music

Between the Buried and Me's Baby Pictures Star in 'The Silent Circus'

The Silent Circus shows Between the Buried and Me developing towards the progressive metal titans they would eventually become.

Music

The Chad Taylor Trio Get Funky and Fiery on 'The Daily Biological'

A nimble jazz power trio of drums, tenor sax, and piano, the Chad Taylor Trio is free and fun, funky and fiery on The Daily Biological.

Music

Vistas' 'Everything Changes in the End' Is Catchy and Fun Guitar Rock

Vistas' debut, Everything Changes in the End, features bright rock music that pulls influences from power-pop and indie rock.

Film

In Amy Seimetz's 'She Dies Tomorrow', Death Is Neither Delusion Nor Denial

Amy Seimetz's She Dies Tomorrow makes one wonder, is it possible for cinema to authentically convey a dream, or like death, is it something beyond our control?

Music

Maestro Gamin and Aeks' Latest EP Delivers LA Hip-Hop Cool (premiere + interview)

MaestroAeks' Sapodigo is a collection of blunted hip-hop tunes, sometimes nudging a fulsome boom-bap and other times trading on laid-back, mellow grooves.

Music

Soul Blues' Sugaray Rayford Delivers a "Homemade Disaster" (premiere + Q&A)

What was going to be a year of touring and building Sugaray Rayford's fanbase has turned into a year of staying home and reaching out to fans from his Arizona home.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.