ometimes you can just hear it in the grain of the voice: this person is speaking truth. I’ve been burned by too many cults of personality to believe much in the hysterical any longer (urgency seems too easy to fake), but weariness is a trait that I think I can pick out in a heartbeat. And, if anything, Mary Gauthier is one girl that’s “tasted dirt.”
It’s hard to believe that Gauthier is the same songwriter that came up with the kinda boring, but amazingly titled Drag Queens in Limousines only five years ago. Or maybe it is. Five years is enough time to craft a strong songwriting sense, right? Along the way we had the strong Filth & Fire, but neither of those records really hinted at what we have here, save the brilliant “Sugarcane.”
So, when I saw that Gauthier had released a new album, I was skeptical. Could she get better than the obvious limitations that moody country music placed upon her? Would she try to branch out from that tag and go somewhere else, or delve even deeper and unveil an even more poignant depiction of the failed West?
Luckily, the latter is the answer here. Mercy Now is Gauthier’s best album, far outstripping Filth & Fire in terms of lyrical depth, memorability, and instrumental accompaniment.
“Falling Out of Love,” the album’s opening track, is the perfect embodiment of much that comes afterwards: a lonely acoustic guitar plucks out a melody as shimmering cello and harmonica amble into view, providing counterpoint. A slow-moving drum track gives the track a backbone, but it hardly is needed, giving that there’s an internal movement already present.
The album continues much in the same way, with highlights ranging from the title track’s naked plea for mercy, the upbeat “Prayer Without Words,” and the plaintive loneliness of “Empty Spaces.”
The one note that doesn’t quite ring true is the closing, electrified, “It Ain’t the Wind, It’s the Rain.” Here Gauthier’s voice picks up from the weary and transforms into a slightly defiant bellow. It’s not a particularly flattering treatment to a song that might be better served in her typical menacing whisper, but the point that she wants to make here is a welcome one: she’ll be back for another round, she’s been through all this before and she’s weathered it. And that’s music to my ears.
Reviewed by: Sarah Kahrl
Reviewed on: 2005-04-14