Mary Gauthier,
Drag Queens In Limousines
(In The Black Records, 1999)

Mary Gauthier (pronounced go-shay) doesn't like to go the easy way. Attracted by the big city lights, she ran away from home at the age of 15. She spent her 16th birthday in detox, her 18th in a jail cell. But she also studied philosophy for five years and later on had an award-winning restaurant in Boston. Quite a career in itself. Obviously being a restless soul, she then decided to become a full-time musician. The cuisine world's loss is the music world's gain.

"Country Noir" is the name tag that Gauthier herself has attached to her music, and it's an apt description. Her lyrics reflect her life, not wanting to omit the darker sides. The title track, "Drag Queens In Limousines," is obviously a very autobiographical song about adjusting to the bohemian city life after sneaking away from home for good: "Drag queens in limousines, nuns in blue jeans / dreamers with big dreams, poets and AWOL marines, / actors and bar flys, writers with dark eyes / drunks that philosophize, these are my friends."

In his novel Striptease, author Carl Hiaasen devoted quite a few pages to describing what it can be like to be falling in love with a hardcore stripper; with "Evangeline," Gauthier manages the same within a few lines. And more convincingly, one might add. Whether it's death row or AIDS, Gauthier is not afraid to sing about disquieting subjects. She is able to look at the seemingly ugly and still see the beauty in it. Nothing stays at the surface here -- she always gets to the core of things, even if it hurts.

The music only partly shows that Gauthier grew up on the sounds of Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline and Merle Haggard. Most songs are in a country/folk vein, somewhat related to Kate Campbell, but much more urban and much darker. But there is some straight country here: the mandolin hums and Gauthier's acoustic guitar playing shines. Nevertheless it's not so much the particular instruments that make Gauthier's music sparkle. With the help of producer Crit Harmon (who also produced her first album) she sets standards for creating moods that let you keep feeling the music long after the CD has stopped playing.

For me the strongest songs on this wonderful set are "Lucky Star" and "Slip Of The Tongue." Both are done in a very basic manner, just an acoustic guitar, some percussion, laid-back keyboards and a bass on one of the songs. Lost love is the subject and the melancholy that comes crawling from the loudspeakers is pure and gripping. Having written that, it may not really be necessary to mention that this is no lightweight music, in no aspect of its many facets. This is music from a clever mind in search of its daily life's purpose. Mary Gauthier doesn't give way to any trendy notions. And hopefully she keeps on doing what she is good at: intelligent music with an edge.

[ by Michael Gasser ]

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