by Robert Bell
9 p.m. White Water Tavern. $20.
I've listened to and loved plenty of sadly beautiful music in my time: Leonard Cohen, Cat Power, Nick Drake, Townes Van Zandt, Jackson C. Frank. All of those folks have made timeless records that have resonated on a deep emotional level. I have never been as emotionally wrecked as I was after listening to Mary Gauthier's 2007 album "Between Daylight and Dark."
I fired the album up on the ol' Spotify, thinking, "OK, what's up next? Acclaimed folk singer/songwriter I've never listened to before. I'll check out some of her tunes, play a few of them from throughout her catalog and write up a To-Do. No biggie." What I heard stopped me from doing anything else other than listening and trying to keep my eyes from welling up, which had become a very tall order by the time the final strains of the last song, "Thanksgiving," were ringing out. I listened to the entire album start-to-finish.
The playing is masterful, the instrumentation full and rich but never overshadowing Gauthier's extraordinary voice, which is smoky and smoldering one moment, clear and high the next. And of course, the songs are just devastating. I started to listen to Gauthier's 2010 album "The Foundling," which has to be her most personal work. But by the time I got to the second song, "Mama Here, Mama Gone," it was frankly just too much to take. It's not maudlin, it's neither self-pitying nor over-the-top nor anything else that might diminish its power and thus make it easier to withstand. It's a simple, beautiful, utterly devastating song that becomes truly wrenching if you know Gauthier's backstory, of her troubled upbringing and how she finally made contact with her birth mother later only to be denied a meeting.
But Gauthier never wallows in misery. She faces down some of the most painful feelings imaginable with honesty and grace. A lot of very good singer/songwriters have come through in the last few years. Very few have been close to the stature of Mary Gauthier. I believe she deserves to be counted among the ranks of the great. This show is not to be missed.
Winnipeg native Scott Nolan opens the all-ages show.