Between Daylight and Dark
John Metzger's #15 album for 2007
First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2007, Volume 14, #9
Written by John Metzger
Tue September 18, 2007, 06:00 AM CDT
Itís highly unlikely that Mary Gauthier will ever be a household name; she spends far too much time examining the darkened shadows of her heart and soul to catch on with the masses. Nevertheless, since cleaning up her act and joining the Lost Highway family, she has become a rising star within the roots-music scene, where she has garnered glowing reviews from every corner of its wide expanses. All anyone who remains unfamiliar with her work really needs to know, however, is this simple fact: Bob Dylan hand-picked a track from Mercy Now to play on his radio program. His ringing endorsement alone ought to signal that a closer inspection of Gauthierís work is warranted, and the stunning, career-best performance that she gives on her latest effort Between Daylight and Dark undeniably will convince even her biggest skeptics that, as an artist, she has arrived fully.
A Louisiana native, Gauthier sings with a twang-y, Southern accent, and her cracked vocals bleed with the sort of pain and anguish that immediately makes comparisons to Lucinda Williams inescapable. Like its predecessor, Between Daylight and Dark creeps along at a sluggish pace. For all of the people who populate her songs, the album is, in effect, a stark and personal account of Gauthierís own existence, one that takes the most troubling trails through Bruce Springsteenís Nebraska and Bob Dylanís Blood on the Tracks. Between Daylight and Dark is filled with slow ballads that are steeped in the blackness of night, and the half-spoken, half-sung fashion in which Gauthier delivers her lyrics conveys a sense of world-weariness that also connects her to John Prine and Steve Earle.
Throughout Between Daylight and Dark, Gauthier weaves together tales of murder (Snakebit), heartache (Before You Leave), and catastrophic loss (Canít Find the Way), but where she once seemed to be mired in pessimistic resignation, she now allows the promise of hope to spring from deep within her compositions. The characters through which she lives may be battered and bruised, but no matter how hard life becomes for them, they all develop the strength to face their demons and survive. On Before You Leave ó where Gauthier sings, "The darkness that shadowed you was mine/it was never yours at all/and the light behind your eyes that used to shine/gets brighter as you walk...away" ó this means severing her ties to loved ones. Elsewhere, such as on the post-Katrina portrait Canít Find the Way, itís simply a matter of persevering, despite the odds. Ultimately, though, Gauthier realizes that she canít escape her problems by running away from them, and on I Ainít Leaving, she determinedly stands her ground while facing her own truths: "Broken on the inside/Thatís what I used to say/And I pack my bags, raise a white flag, and drive away/I thought thatís what made me strong/But I was young, and I was wrong."
Tapping Joe Henry to produce Between Daylight and Dark proved to be a wise move. He takes the albumís title literally by bathing each song in dusky textures through which small rays of sunshine are allowed to filter. Although he lends the collection an air of warm but somber intimacy, he also pierces the mood with atmospheric touches that hover like ghosts, chasing Gauthier down the dark alleyways that she conjures with her words. The rattling of a slide guitar foreshadows the danger that lies within Snakebit, while on Same Road, the percussion that lurks in the background evokes the sound of waves crashing upon the shore. At times, it soothingly seems to provide a baptismal cleansing of Gauthierís wounds; at other moments, it ominously feels as if she will slip into the undertow and be lost forever beneath the sea. Elsewhere, the sound of a pedal steel guitar sweeps through Soft Place to Land, offering comfort as it guides her to salvation, and on Thanksgiving, the claustrophobic scene of a prisonís confinement is leavened, at least temporarily, by the arrival of the inmatesí families for a holiday meal. In the end, Gauthier never really finds true, inner peace. Instead, the turmoil inside her appears merely to reach a tentative standoff. Nevertheless, she, at least, has come to appreciate what she has by gaining perspective on her life as well as on her place in the world.
Of Further Interest...
Between Daylight and Dark is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box