By Jim Simpson, photo by Julia Simpson
Mary Gauthier (pronounced go-SHAY) has said that the best nights on stage involve losing herself in her songs, reaching that transcendent moment when she and the audience become one. This certainly happened at her show on Friday at Eddie’s Attic, when — with the crowd’s affirmation — she changed the final line in her song “The Orphan King” from “I still believe in love” to “We still believe in love.”
It’s wonderfully ironic that Gauthier, an orphan who spent the first year of her life in the St. Vincent’s Infants Home in New Orleans, has finally found herself by losing herself.
A slight technical glitch which forced her violinist from the stage for a few moments, gave way to an impromptu Q&A session while Mary strummed.
A notable “truth teller” compared to Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Patty Smith and John Prine, Gauthier chatted easily with fans who seemed very familiar with her music as she related the simple origins of her classic “Drag Queens In Limousines” as well as her connection to Taylor Swift — the song “Sideshow” from her latest record, The Foundling, was co-written with Nashville songwriter Liz Rose, who has also written with Miss Swift. Gauthier’s songs feature the brutal and gritty reality of dysfunction while entertaining the eternal light of hope and grace.
Backed by superb violinist and singer Tanya Elizabeth, Gauthier ran through highlights of her 13-year recording history including “Christmas in Paradise,” “Thanksgiving at the Prison” (“Sometimes love ain’t easy/I guess love ain’t free.”), “Last of the Hobo Kings” and “I Drink.” She then played several songs from The Foundling, an autobiographical “song cycle” that mirrors her own life as an orphan given up for adoption at birth (“A baby unwanted, unloved, and unblessed/Left on a doorstep, an unbidden guest.”). After spending the first year of her life in the New Orleans orphanage, she was adopted by a Baton Rouge couple with emotional and substance abuse problems of their own. At 15, Gauthier famously ran away, stealing the family sedan never to see her adoptive parents again. After a few aborted attempts at college and restaurant work, she started a successful New Orleans-style diner in Boston, which she later sold to finance her music career.
The Foundling, a concept album of sorts, follows this child from birth to adulthood, searching for and eventually tracking down her birth mother. The spoken-word “March 11, 1962” (Gauthier’s birth date) was a heartbreaking, lump-in-the-throat-inducing conversation between a daughter and the mother who wants nothing to do with her.
Gauthier told the Eddie’s Attic crowd “everyone has a story” and that her life was obviously affected by “the blues coming in through the window [of the orphanage] off Bourbon Street.” A Nashville resident now, she also gave a nod to the late Music City songwriting legend Harlan Howard who told her, “Every day above ground is a good day.” Gauthier is certainly making the most of her time. She came back onstage for a fitting encore of 2005’s “Mercy Now,” including a sliver of John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”.
Pure and simple, this night showed a true artist at the height of her powers and in full command of her craft.