Street Sounds: Gritty, protest folk

Mary Gauthier casts her seventh album through a harsh lens - the viewpoint of the war veteran

New Orleans-based singer/songwriter Mary Gauthier casts her seventh album, Rifles and Rosary Beads, through a harsh lens — the viewpoint of the war veteran.

Gauthier is a folk singer in the classic mold, an old time Woody Guthrie style protest singer. War and protest usually make folk music with integrity, right?

Rifles and Rosary Beads takes that notion several steps further by involving veterans and their families in the writing process, bringing a blunt and uncoloured theme to the music. That might scare some listeners off. Let’s just say it’s not some music that you want to crank up to get the party started or some highway driving git-down sound.

Gauthier, a songwriter whose work gets covered by the Nashville elite brings all the dark, edgy themes of Iraqi frontline life into a poetic flow. Her vocal tone is whiskey-rough but true, a naturally rich and intimate tone that gives the listener trust. There’s heartbreak here for sure but the mission behind the music and the stories gives the songs legs. Gauthier and her producer give the record a hazy, turn-of-the-century feel (20th Century, that is) that connects with the narrative. They sweeten this deal with resonant acoustic guitars, pianos, mouth harp and swampy beats.

For some people it may be a bitter pill to swallow, a downer. May Gauthier’s songwriting artistry and empathy with sorrow and struggle point it in the direction of modern folk, blues and protest music.

She tells the story.

–Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician who reviews the latest music releases in his column, Street Sounds, every Friday.