MARY GAUTHIER & ALLISON MOORER: A SALVE FOR WHAT AILS YOU

Mary Gauthier and Allison Moorer_2

By Steve Houk

It’s hard to believe a concert that addresses squirmy topics like homelessness, autism, divorce, alcoholism, suicide and other human struggles could be considered revelatory, elating and ultimately positive for both musician and listener.

But you put Mary Gauthier and Allison Moorer on a stage together, and well, that’s exactly what you get. The “Really Depressed Tour” was what I think Gauthier jokingly referred to it as, saying at the show’s outset amidst laughs from both the musicians and the packed crowd,”If you came here to feel better, you came to the wrong place.” But, by show’s end, somehow, some way, we felt a helluva lot better.

On the first date of their short co-headlining stint, two of Americana/folk/country music’s most open and emotional songwriters laid it all out there on the stage and then some, as will most likely be the norm throughout their heralded run. And what they seemed to do for both themselves and their audience was both unusual and miraculous. As they alternated between their own songs on a sparse stage at Jammin Java in Vienna VA, they keenly and clearly illustrated the power of music as a healing force, not only for themselves, but also for their audience.

Allison Moorer (L) and Mary Gauthier at Jammin Java 3-19-15

Allison Moorer (L) and Mary Gauthier at Jammin Java 3-19-15

Both Gauthier and Moorer have had their share of hard times over the years, I mean really hard times, and that’s what has drawn them to one another and kept them close. And it was plain to see that the cathartically powerful nature of their songwriting has been a warm and supporting hand for each of them as they have dealt with their demons and bigtime challenges. But their music also provides us, the consumers of their music, with a method by which we hear how others express their emotions about some damn hard things, and then helps us get some context and often even some comfort in dealing with those things ourselves. It’s a rare gift, and both of these amazing women have it in spades.

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Moorer, 42, has been at her craft about as long as Gauthier, 53, has, even though she’s 11 years younger. Music has been her passion from early on, and her exceptional songwriting and vocal skills have provided her with a solid and substantive if not superstar career. Nominated for an Oscar for best song when she was 26 (“A Soft Place To Fall” from The Horse Whisperer), the clearly weathered but still stunningly beautiful Moorer has endured childhood trauma beyond measure that surely fueled her emotional palette early on, as well as that of her sister, revered singer/songwriter Shelby Lynne. But more recently, a second divorce (this one from Americana legend Steve Earle) and a devastating diagnosis of autism for her five year-old son John Henry have been the catalysts for her own musical exegisis.

And Moorer brought those struggles stunningly to the stage last night, most notably when delivering a heartwrenching rendition of “Mama Let The Wolf In” off her stunning new record Down To Believin’, which describes both her agony and protective instincts surrounding her son’s autism diagnosis. To intro the song, she described in detail the moment the doctor told her what she and her son would be facing, largely alone, which made the song spill out of her and into our laps in all its excruciating glory. She also piercingly and poignantly addressed her recent divorce from Earle with the new album’s title track, a beautiful tune made even more so with an acoustic delivery. It’s a song where you can just taste her sorrow at the end of a marriage, yet with the possibility of her own personal salvation still hanging in the air. And we’ve all been there, so yes, we can feel her pain while doing some healing of our own at the same time. On a less harrowing but no less emotional level, she played a gorgeous version of “Blood”, an ode to her sister off the new record that she has been quoted as describing as “about loving someone unconditionally, and always having your arms open to them no matter what.” Given what the two sisters have been through, it’s more exceptional than ever that they have been able to so eloquently convey their emotions for so long while also keeping it together.

TroubeAndLove_Cover

Gauthier also deals searingly and passionately with pain, suffering and redemption with her quite different, gloriously deep and powerful storytelling, and tonight was no exception. Her style and demeanor is androgynistic and direct yet also beautifully caring and compassionate, with her lilting Louisiana drawl accompanied by poetic and descriptive lyrics. Her latest record Trouble and Love addresses a painful breakup with a partner on nearly every song, and on this night she played three, first it was “False Or True” with the opening words, “Jagged edges/broken parts/where you end/and where I start.” Later, she returned to the ache of moving on without a love on “Another Train”: “I’m moving on through the pain, through the pain, waiting on another train, another train.” The hurt resonated further as she goes on by herself on “How You Learn To Live Alone”, a song covered on an upcoming episode of ABC’s Nashville. “It don’t feel right, but it’s not wrong/It’s just hard to start again this far along/Brick by brick, the letting go, as you walk away from everything you know.”

Gauthier has the innate and rare ability to take pain and her own healing and convey it onto her audience, so they can feel her pain and yes, perhaps heal as well. She also rolled one of her most powerful story songs, “The Last of the Hobo Kings” which makes you think about the pain of others and that one can find true glory out of the dregs. Makes you think. Again.

The pair ended the evening with Gauthier’s tender yet bracing “Mercy Now” which asks for mercy for a swath of characters in the songwriter’s life. Her father, brother, church and country and are pleaded for, but in the spirit of the open arms of healing and salvation that pervades both artists’ work, the song concludes with this oh-so inclusive verse: “We all could use a little mercy now/I know we don’t deserve it but we need it anyhow/We hang in the balance, dangle ‘tween hell and hallowed ground/And every single one of us could use some mercy now.”

Thanks to the brilliant music of Mary Gauthier and Allison Moorer, we had an arm around us tonight, telling us, “Hey guys, it’s gonna be alright, I mean, look at US, we’re still standing.”

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