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Mary Gauthier & Ray Wylie Hubbard - 8/21
at City Winery Chicago
About Mary Gauthier
In conversation and in public, Mary Gauthier comes off as a practical, no-nonsense woman. Stoic, even. Which wouldn’t seem unusual, except for the fact that her songs carry so much emotional punch, they can leave you staggering. She has a way of burrowing into that hole so many of us carry inside our souls, and emerging with universal truths that show we aren’t so alone after all.
Gauthier knows where our exposed nerve endings lie because she’s probed her own so deeply, finally learning to unlock the fear and loneliness that controlled her escape-seeking trajectory for so long before songwriting — and the sobriety that drew it forth at age 35 — gave her a steadier flight path.
But even though her six albums have received countless accolades (2005’s Mercy Now earned her the Americana Music Association’s New/Emerging Artist of the Year title, and 2011’s The Foundling was named the No. 3 Record of the Year but the L.A. Times), , Gauthier felt she needed to rack up her pilot hours, so to speak, before she could hit another major milestone: recording a live album. When she was ready, she captured Live at Blue Rock at a concert at the Blue Rock Artist Ranch and Studio in Wimberley, Texas, outside of Austin.
“People have been asking for a live CD for a long time and I just knew that I wasn’t ready yet,” admits Gauthier. “It took 10 years of trench work. Of bein’ out there, banging my head against all the things an artist has to bang against. Indifference. Poor attendance. Situations that are over your head. Every night, curve ball, curve ball, curve ball. But stagecraft cannot be taught. You have to be onstage to learn it. So after 10 years of doin’ it, I got good at it.”
Louisiana native-turned-Nashville resident Gauthier (it’s French; pronounced Go-SHAY), whose songs have earned praise from Bob Dylan and Tom Waits, and been recorded by Jimmy Buffett, Blake Shelton and many others, is not bragging, just explaining, in that practical way of hers. It’s the same way she discusses experiences that led to some of the extraordinary songs she performs on the album. Renowned songs, such as “I Drink,” “Drag Queens in Limousines” and “Karla Faye” — which addresses the famous fate of that convicted killer, but starts out with lines that undoubtedly reference their author as well: A little girl lost, her world full of pain. He said it feels good, she gave him her vein.
Then there’s “Blood on Blood,” from her last release, 2010's The Foundling, which plumbs the particular hell of children given up to closed adoption. With a cinematographer’s eye and a lyrical economy that suggests far more than her 15 years of songwriting experience, she chronicles an always-present sense of rejection and rootlessness, the nagging “whys” and “what ifs,” the endless search of every face for a possible resemblance. I don’t know who I am I don’t know who I’m not/I don’t know my name I can’t find my place, she sings, her voice rising from a whisper to a wail. She’s not just offering a vein here, she’s cutting several wide open. Like all of her songs, “Blood on Blood” takes on even more power when performed live.
“As a songwriter, I’m always trying to go to the deepest possible place inside of me. Past the navel-gazing, past the self-conscious, to get to that ‘we,’” Gauthier explains. “’Cause deep inside of all of us is the universal. And that is an artist’s job, to transcend the self. … I’m in there, but then hopefully, it goes past that and it hits something far, far bigger and more important than me. That’s what I’m aimin’ for every time I write.”
She’s proud that The Foundling opened the floodgates for thousands of fellow orphans who had never heard anyone articulate their pain with so much insight. Gauthier reports therapists are now using the album to better understand the adoptee experience. It’s also resulted in several reunions between children and their birth parents — though Gauthier’s birth mother declined that option after Gauthier made contact five years ago. And she understands that decision, even if she’ll never have the full closure she sought.
Bio by Lynne Margolis
About Ray Wylie Hubbard
As a music lover of impeccable taste, odds are that you’re already looking forward to spending the better part of the next hour – and several more after that – getting rather obsessively familiar with this latest serving of song and groove from Ray Wylie Hubbard. Having no doubt played his last album, 2010’s A. Enlightenment, B. Endarkenment (Hint: There is No C), to digital bits — and committed to memory such earlier chestnuts as Snake Farm, Growl, Eternal and Lowdown, Crusades of the Restless Knights, and maybe even everything else going all the way back to that 1975 Cowboy Twinkies LP that Hubbard himself would rather you forget – you probably can’t wait to tuck into his 2012 album The Grifter’s Hymnal and leisurely savor it from end to end.
This, of course, is how things should be. But a couple of variables could throw the above plan off the rails a bit. Suppose, for instance, that the damn Mayans were right, and what’s left of 2012 is all the time we have left, period. Or, maybe despite that aforementioned impeccable music taste, you’ve somehow managed to make it this far into the 21st century without ever hearing of this Hubbard fellow. Grim scenarios, yes, but fear not; because whether you’re short on time due to an impending apocalypse or simply need a tidy introduction to bring you up to speed, the opening track on The Grifter’s Hymnal, “Coricidin Bottle,” tells you everything you need to know in just under two minutes. What it tells you about The Grifter’s Hymnal is that the record rocks. And what it tells you about Ray Wylie Hubbard is, he’s the kind scrapper poet with the devil-may-care wherewithal to write both “lay down a groove like a monkey gettin’ off” and “shakes the mortal coil round my amaranthine soul” into the same song – and the lethal charm and chops to pull it off.
“Words are funky,” chuckles Hubbard, a voracious reader and seeker who draws as much inspiration from the likes of poet Rainer Maria Rilke as he does from Lightnin’ Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb. “That ‘amaranthine soul’ line ... I went somewhere and that word came up, and it means either purple or forever. And I thought, ‘yeah, that’s the kind of soul I’ve got.’”
The "laying down a groove like a monkey gettin’ off" line speaks for itself.
“The album really does have a lot of attitude,” Hubbard says proudly. “We made it to play loud, and I think the sonic quality of it is just beautiful. Even if you don’t like the singer or the songs, you’ll like the way it sounds.” The sound he was aiming for — and bulls-eyed — recalls many of his favorite rock records of the ’60s, with equal doses of Small Faces, Rolling Stones, and Buffalo Springfield. But take his characteristic self-deprecation in regards to the singer and the songs themselves with a pinch of salt, because for all his love for nailing down a groove (especially over the past decade of his career), Hubbard’s ragged-but-right vocals and lyrical wits continue to get better and better with age. So, too, it seems, does his knack for tying his projects up with just the right title. “The whole idea was, I really like those words, grifter and hymnal,” he says. “The grifter kind of came out of the ’20s, kind of like the con man in Paper Moon. He’s not really a bad guy, because usually they would only grift people who maybe had it coming because of their own greed. I just like the idea of it — not that I’m so much of a con man, but … I’m 65 and still scuffling! I didn’t want to peak too soon and I don’t want to be a nostalgia act, so I keep trying to learn new things and make it work. The carrot’s still out there for me.”
Hubbard’s been chasing that carrot since the ’60s, when he started his journey as a folk singer in his native Oklahoma before falling in with the wild and wooly cosmic/outlaw Texas country scene of the ’70s
— in large part by way of penning the immortal “Up Against the Wall (Redneck Mother),” which Jerry Jeff Walker recorded on his seminal 1973 album ¡Viva Terlingua!. Hubbard gigged constantly and recorded sporadically throughout the rest of the ’70s and ’80s, but it wasn’t until he stumbled out of his “honky-tonk fog” and into sobriety that his career as a songwriter’s songwriter began in earnest with 1994’s Loco Gringo’s Lament. He’s moved from strength to strength ever since, recording a handful of acclaimed albums with noted producers Lloyd Maines and Gurf Morlix and cementing his standing as one of the most respected artists on the modern Americana scene.
Bio by Richard Skanse