Mary Gauthier – The Foundling

January 01, 1970

(Razor & Tie)


Mary Gauthier discovered her voice in her late 30s, and she’s
been refining it ever since.  As a singer
with only a few notes in her vocal range, but a wide range of expressive
delivery, Gauthier has become one of the most engaging post-folkie,
alt-country, whatever-you-want-to-call-them performers of the last dozen or so
years. She is an artist searching for peace in the midst of rage, for love in
the midst of loss, for mercy in the midst of pain. 


Along comes the new album, and she’s talking about the root
of all the problems she’s described over the course of her previous five
records. It turns out that, shortly after being born back in 1962, Gauthier was
given up for adoption, and her lack of connection to her past has tugged at her
all her life. Hence, she sought out her birth-mother, and wrote a bunch of songs
about her position as an orphan, and the double loss when it turns out there
was no magical moment of love and redemption when she reached her goal.


This isn’t exactly an easy thing to put into song, and
Gauthier, a wordsmith capable of coming up with a perfect phrase like “Another
truly troubled troubadour” occasionally veers into clunkier territory on this
album. But she transforms the most prosaic lines (“When I was a child they told
me she loved me too much,” for example) into something perfectly lovely and
heartbreaking just by the way she approaches each word with her combination of
tone and accent.


The centerpiece here is “March 11, 1962,” a semi-spoken
account of the phone call she made to the woman who gave her away. As producer
Mike Timmons of the Cowboy Junkies provides a blood-curdling wail on slide
guitar wrapped around the fiddle of Tania Elizabeth, Gauthier delivers the
hope, the sorrow, the silence, and the desire of this experience. The album
changes direction after this song – the first part of the record is about
Gauthier’s questions, and the last part is about her newfound acceptance of her
lot in life. It’s not exactly an embracing of this role, as it offers no
security and contains plenty of suffering, but she no longer wonders what could
be different.


It remains to be seen if any of the songs on The Foundling will resonate individually
in the ways that such gems as “Mercy Now” or “Thanksgiving” have done from the
past couple albums. As an album, however, this is one powerful work. It could
easily have fallen into a movie-of-the-week treatment, but Mary Gauthier aims
higher than merely providing obvious emotional cues. Instead, she shows that
her experience is complicated, and it’s as important to try to understand what
she’s gone through as it is to wallow in it.


Standout Tracks: “March
11, 1962,” “Walk In the Water,” “Sideshow,” “The Orphan King” STEVE PICK


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