Gauthier (mispronounced frequently enough that her album packaging bears the reminder “Say ‘Go-Shay’ Y’all!”) is just as intent when it comes to her songwriting. She trains her perceptive eye on figures hidden in the shadows, aiming for jarring revelation as much as entertainment. “Snakebit”—the opening track on her fifth album, Between Daylight and Dark—is a case in point. As the song slinks along with a muffled tom-tom pulse, Gauthier’s curling drawl sounds both horrified and matter-of-fact at the smoking gun in her hand.
“It’s first cousin to ‘Long Black Veil’ [a murder ballad made famous by Johnny Cash],” she says. “It’s not any darker than what happens in some people’s lives. There are people who, at 40, get pushed to the point where they can’t take it anymore and something really bad happens. Prisons are full of these women and men. That’s what I’m getting at.”
The Louisiana native’s rawboned songs are in the tradition of Southern Gothic author Flannery O’Connor, penetrating and scraping away all residue of superficiality. Gauthier’s descriptions of people and places are vivid, prickly and utterly tangible. “Flannery O’Connor—one of my writer heroes,” she says. “I’m absolutely influenced by her. She gives me the courage to go to dark places, because she showed me with her writing why you go there. You go there for a reason. You don’t go there gratuitously. Darkness shines the light if you use it properly.”
The fact that Gauthier has made a habit of dragging out-of-sight, out-of-mind characters into the spotlight since 1997’s Dixie Kitchen—named for a Boston restaurant she once owned—shows where her attentions are. “Last of the Hobo Kings”—with its hambone-ish thigh slaps, rail-riding subjects and talking-blues treatment—is just such a song.
“I don’t see them as marginal figures—I see them as marginalized,” she says. “I think they’re major figures. They’re where the good shit is. It’s interesting—it’s valuable. I cherish the characters, the people who dare to step out on a limb and be different, who are willing to be exactly who they are whether people will applaud or boo.” These aren’t observations made from a safe distance, but as the result of intimate contact. Before Gauthier cleared 20, she’d dropped out of school, done time in detox and jail and cast her lot in with an array of down-and-out folks.
As much as Between Daylight and Dark is threaded with the visceral folk, country and blues textures that have been Gauthier’s staples, it has its departures, too. When she waxed autobiographical on previous albums, the songs didn’t speak to current life so much as what she’d done and seen in her colorful younger years. (“Drag Queens in Limousines”—an account of a high school runaway from her second album—is a good example.)
“I started writing late,” says Gauthier, who completed her first song at age 35. “So I had to write and write and catch up with where I was. I think with [2005’s] Mercy Now I had almost caught up, and this one’s written in real-time.”
Along with a sharpened focus on the present, her latest album is her most immediate-sounding to date and—not coincidentally—the first for which nearly everything, vocals included, was recorded live.
“I’ve had to learn how to sing,” Gauthier says. “Singing doesn’t come natural. I have a limited range, so I’ve got to wrestle the meaning out of what I’m capable of doing. In the early records, I guess I didn’t look at it as a positive thing, and now I’m starting to see that it can be a blessing.” When Gauthier sings about love unraveling during “Before You Leave,” she reaches for a higher, more exposed note than she might have in the past. “That’s exactly what it felt like,” she says. “The character in that song is very vulnerable, so I had to go for that note. It wouldn’t have been right without it.”
The album’s intimate sound has a lot to do with the sensitive touch of producer Joe Henry. “His work is—no doubt about it—it’s world-class,” says Gauthier. “But that’s not why I picked him. I picked him because he got me and he wanted to work with me and he showed it.”
The players Henry chose—among them multitalented guitarist Greg Leisz—didn’t hurt either. “The first thing they wanted to see was the lyric sheet,” she says. “These guys were just the masters of restraint, because they’re mature and because they understand that, with certain lyrics, you’ve got to hold back. And they just naturally did it. I didn’t say or do a thing.”
Just as the distance between music and ear has fallen away, so have Gauthier’s concerns about people appreciating the aim of her grittier songs. “Enough people do so that the ones that don’t, don’t have very much of an effect on me anymore,” she says. “It used to piss me off, but now it’s like, ‘OK then, you don’t have to listen, because I’m not for you.’ The ones who do get it really get it and I’m very lucky in that way.”
David O. Russell was born in 1958, so he should have some memory of the…
Born at the end of the Second World War, Kiefer and critical reflection on dangerous…
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen David Jesse are known as the Coen brothers, are the…
Another Year is a film directed by Mike Leigh film with a fairly common theme…
Wow these comments are awesome, really nice to see some good debating for once instead…