Rifles and Rosary Beads – Mary Gauthier

Mary Gauthier is one of the greats in the current singer-songwriter circuit, heralding praise from the likes of Bob Dylan amongst others. 'Rifles and Rosary Beads' is her latest hard-hitting record.

This is very interesting work. Mary Gauthier is rightly regarded as one of the major contemporary singer-songwriters. Don’t take my word for it, Bob Dylan, who knows a thing or two about the subject, rates her as a serious operator.

Songs such as ‘I Drink’ and ‘Mercy Now are timeless masterpieces with not a spare or wasted word. Mary came to her true talent after a troubled early life and is brilliant at reflecting upon the struggles of the downcast, lonely and forgotten in society.

Her recorded work and live shows have rightly won many credits and she now rightly operates in the premier league of songwriters alongside Prine, Crowell, DeMent etc.

Mary has been a very welcome performer in Ireland, regularly being booked by the Real Music Club and other discerning venues and gigs. Live she is a hugely honest and passionate performer with no mean singing voice and sparse but effective guitar accompaniment, sometimes aided by an Italian fiddle player.

‘Rifles and Rosary Beads’ emerges from the work Mary has been carrying out over the past four years with the “Songwriting With Soldiers” programme. This is something she has been very vocal about and has now brought the project to a stage where a full album of co-written songs has been produced.

The album isn’t an easy listen, as I reckon the process of expressing and capturing the emotions behind the songs wouldn’t have been easy. The titles of the songs alone give a clear steer into what lies ahead; ‘Soldering On’, ‘The War After The War’, ‘Bullet Holes In The Sky’ and ‘Iraq’. Some of the themes are what one might have predicted, but others touch on subjects such as sexual abuse.

It must have been a really unique experience for the co-writers to work with a person as skilled and talented as Mary Gauthier. My feeling is that premier league players rarely share. But here we have
a rare example of generosity and openness. Well done Mary.

And yet I have issues with this work which I suspect Mary and her co-writers might be happy to debate. To me, the reflections are about how the madness of war impacts upon soldiers, their families and those immediately around them or not as the case might be. Maybe I missed it but where is the reflection upon the effects of American foreign policy on the countries and people who live where they play out their deadly war games?

Maybe that’s for another album? And that’s before we even get into a debate about who are victims of a conflict. I could foresee an interesting debate if and when these songs were presented in a show here.

Overall, it’s a wonderful honest piece of work by a woman who is one of the truest and most passionate performers out there. I think Woody Guthrie would be proud of where the tradition has gone.

Get the album yourself and see what you think. Hopefully, we will hear Mary back in Ireland sooner rather than later.