Mary Gauthier Delivers Poignant Songs of Love & Loss On ‘Dark Enough To See The Stars’

The past two years have been an emotional time for all of us. We’ve gone through introspective moments, we’ve mourned our losses, and we’ve taken stock of what matters most – family and close friends. This period, in a rather strange and awkward way for many musicians forced off the road due to the pandemic, has produced more than its fair share of creativity but few, if any songwriters have captured these deep emotions as well as Mary Gauthier does on Dark Enough to See the Stars. This should not be at all surprising, however. It befits her history with such gems as 2005’s Mercy Now, her 2018 Grammy-nominated Rifles & Rosary Beads, with wounded Iraq war veterans; and 2010’s’ gut-wrenching The Foundling, about her adoption and search for her birth mother. While the latter cut so deep that it was difficult to digest, these songs on Dark Enough to See the Stars resonate with emotions that many of us have felt in recent times but were unable to express nearly as well as Gauthier does.

Alternating the themes of love and loss, the album holds three consecutive love songs, inspired by her own newfound joy in her own relationship.  Buoyant organ and ringing electric guitars welcome us into the celebratory “Fall Apart World,” which is the epitome of the old saying that in the darkest of hours comes light. Her partner, Jaimee Harris is the co-writer and sings harmony on the ballad “Amsterdam,” with its infectious chorus. The city is dear to Gauthier because, among other things, it was there that she wrote much of Mercy Now at her favorite hotel.  Stranded there on tour with Harris during the pandemic, Gauthier shares the kind of joyous feelings any one of us would have showing a favorite city to a loved one. The piano ballad “Thank God for You” contrasts her former addict life (sober for 32 years now) with newfound joy. Danny Mitchell’s keys, whether on the organ or piano, frame these songs so well.

“How Could You Be Gone” is the first of the songs about loss as she mourns without namedropping but clearly invoking the memories of John Prine, Nanci Griffith, David Olney, and her friend Betsy. The repetitive chorus of “How Could You Be Gone” becomes hymn-like, fortified by a church-like organ. “Where Are You Now” paints autumnal images of trails that she and her friend Betsy once walked, in somber tones of a lonely walk one might take, reflecting on a recent loss. The title track, co-written with Beth Nielsen Chapman several years ago, is about emerging from a state of grief to one of clarity and appreciation. The title comes from a Martin Luther King speech (“Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars”). Mitchell’s sparse musical accompaniment with organ and well-placed piano notes fits the image of the title perfectly as does Fats Kaplin’s weeping pedal steel in “The Meadow,” as Gauthier recounts numerous memories.

“Truckers and Troubadours,” introduced with Dylan-like harmonica introduces a different subject of sorts. Co-written with Darden Smith, she compares the oft solitary life of the journeyman musician with that of truckers – “white lines in rearview towns, it’s too late to turn back now.”  “About Time” is an intimate and stripped-down confessional song in which she expresses yearning just like that lonely troubadour in a hotel room yearning for her lover’s “candlestick fingers on my skin…while I try not to think about time.” She offers a prayer “to all those I hope to reunite with” in the closing “Til I See You Again,” one of the most impactful songs about healing from loss this writer has ever heard. While Dylan celebrated the beauty of living life to its fullest in his anthemic “Forever Young,” Gauthier finds beauty and healing in the loss.

Dark Enough to See the Stars stands with her very best work. Just as her song “Mercy Now” has been covered by many artists, this collection of ten songs has several that should endure for years to come. You may shed some tears, recall fond memories of your own, or simply just marvel at how Gauthier delivers so many poignant, relatable emotions that most of us would be hard-pressed to express. Rarely does an album have so much emotional impact.

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