Mary Go Heavily 

Stark Americana balladeer Mary Gauthier plumbs devastating depths with spectacular results.

"A sad song can make you feel better," Mary Gauthier says in her measured Louisiana drawl. "It takes the edge off of the feeling you're being singled out by an angry god."

Gauthier (pronounced go-shay) knows a thing or two about sadness, grief, and the sordid side of life. She started drinking as a teenager, had her first detox at fifteen, and was evidently a walking disaster until she dried out at 28. Despite all that, Gauthier found herself running a restaurant in Boston, located next to the Berklee College of Music. "I quit drinking and the relationship I was in ended, so I had time on my hands," she recalls. "I went to a Berklee open mic one night and liked the atmosphere, so I thought I'd give it a try."

Gauthier picked up her long-unused guitar, and the songs poured out. She released two albums on her own, 1997's Dixie Kitchen and 1999's Drag Queens in Limousines, scoring substantial radio play and critical praise for her dark vision and minimal approach. In 2002 Filth and Fire, another powerful noir collection, landed her a deal with Lost Highway, which released the stunning Mercy Now last year. Minimally produced by Lucinda Williams coconspirator Gurf Morlix, Mercy is a relentless exploration of life's darker side; Gauthier's whispered vocals convey the weary desperation of a woman who has been through the worst life has to offer but retains the strength to sing about it. "I'm an extreme person," she explains. "I talk about the extreme sides of every experience to wind up somewhere in the middle. If a character in one of the songs wakes up willing to get dressed and go take it on again, that's hopeful. They know this life is a struggle, and it is, for them and for me."

Onstage, Gauthier employs the same minimalism that works so well on record, with a spare guitar and vocals setup with only second guitarist Tom Jutz to embellish it. "I want the music to match the feeling of the songs, so everything is spare and acoustic," she explains. "There are just enough people out there who appreciate the struggle to keep me going. I didn't just stop drinking and pick up a guitar. Music was the end of a long healing process. It took time just to put a sentence together, much less write a song. I was dead when I stopped drinking; it took a long time to come back to life."

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