With her 2005 Lost Highway debut, Mercy Now, Mary Gauthier's presence as a notable songwriter increased on an international level. She earned the Americana Music Association's Award for New/Emerging Artist Of The Year, spots on several notable critics' best of lists, and even praise from Bob Dylan on his XM Satellite Radio Show. Her evolution as a singer/songwriter continues with Between Daylight and Dark. Produced by Joe Henry and recorded live in the studio in Henry's basement during the course of five days, Mary discovers the more fragile, tender, and hopeful side of letting the past go and living in the present.
In an era when too many youthful singer-songwriters earn critical plaudits too easily, the more mature Mary Gauthier's track record has been a heartening exception to that rule. Her difficult early life and ability to create soulful, in-your-face poetry from harsh reality, occasional brutality, and hope set her apart. If anything, she surpasses her past work with this stunning live-in-the-studio effort that captures a wide range of scenarios. There's the needy desperation of the love songs "Please" and "Before You Leave" and her brilliant conjuring of the raw displacement, rage, and grief of her fellow New Orleanians in the Hurricane Katrina-inspired "Can't Find the Way" (with a cameo from the legendary Van Dyke Parks). The atmospheric title song, penned by Gauthier and Fred Eaglesmith, teems with the angst of lost love. As the hard-hitting scenario of "Snakebit" carries the tension of classic film noir, "Thanksgiving" captures a bleak holiday prison visit. "The Last of the Hobo Kings" stands as a 21st-century requiem to the vanishing transients of the past, decades before they were renamed "homeless." Joe Henry's spare, understated production only enhances the wallop of these performances. In a world glutted with Americana singer-songwriters, many plagued by a dilettantism that prevents them from plowing too deeply into the dark side of the human condition, Gauthier reaffirms--magnificently--her ability to do that and much more. --Rich Kienzle