It’s long been said that what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. Case in point: Singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier, who went through a rough break-up but was left with a stellar collection of songs.
“Trouble & Love” is many things at once. It documents a heart being shattered via an eight-song missive about sorrow, anger and trying to move on. The opening lines of “When a Woman Goes Cold” set the tone. “She didn’t get mad/she didn’t even cry/she lit a cigarette/and said goodbye.” This sentiment is repeated in songs like “Oh Soul,” “False from True” and “Worthy” and, well, all of the songs.
But the album also delivers musically with Guthrie Trapp’s electric guitar, Jimmy Wallace on Hammond organ, Viktor Krauss on upright bass and backing vocals from Beth Nielsen Chapman, among other players. “Trouble & Love” breathes fire but also has a tender side. “Trying to catch my breath/she moved so fast/rumble strips, red lights, broken glass/twisted steel, sirens and blood/love and trouble/trouble and love,” sings Gauthier on the record’s title track.
I’ve been a fan of Gauthier since her critically acclaimed 2005 record “Mercy Now,” and I have witnessed the power of her live show.
For those of you unfamiliar with Gauthier’s story, it’s a doozy. She lived in a New Orleans orphanage for the first year of her life, and her adoptive father was an alcoholic. As a teenager she stole her adoptive mother’s car and drove herself to rehab, ended up in a halfway house and was arrested on her 18th birthday. Gauthier ended up in Boston, where she became a chef and partner in a Cajun restaurant. On the restaurant’s opening night, Gauthier was arrested for drunken driving. She has been sober ever since.
She wrote her first song in her 30s and released her first record in 1997. Now 53, Gauthier continues to grow her fan base with her striking wordsmithing and an achingly soulful voice that has shades of country twang in it.
Gauthier spoke with me about the record and life from her home in Nashville. For the past six years, Gauthier has been teaching songwriting and said she tries hard to instill courage in her students. “I think the writers that I work with don’t understand yet how much courage it takes to be able to stand up and say something.” When a student has a breakthrough, Gauthier says, the reward is huge. “It’s just unbelievably beautiful. I love it.”
As for her own songwriting, I zeroed in on my current favorite track, “Walking Each Other Home,” and asked Gauthier to break it down. “I think our mortality certainly shapes our world view as we get older. I guess part of the healing after a breakup is reflecting on what’s really important and all of the resentments and hurts and betrayal and devastation slowly recede and you start to see the big picture. We’re just humans, and we’re not here for very long, and in the end we help each walk part of the way home and that’s huge.”
Gauthier is a troubadour who logs many miles touring, and she’s quick to recognize the struggles and joys of this kind of life. “I lose touch with my real life. I’m gone for three or four weeks at a time, then I come home and try to re-establish myself, and by the time I’m starting to feel a routine at home [before] I gotta go again.”
But on the other side of this is where the rewards lie. “The great wonder of it all and all that huge joy of it is that I have friends in cities everywhere. The friendships that I’ve made after all these years of touring are real friendships and so I guess I’m a citizen of the world, which is fantastic.”
I’m not sure if Gauthier has any friends in Maine, but she for sure has plenty of fans, and this show will likely sell out.
Opening for Gauthier is indie-folk singer-songwriter Allison Moorer. Her ninth album, “Down to Believing,” dropped about five minutes ago and this billing with Gauthier is a match made in heaven to my ears. Her voice is sweet yet fierce, her songs are sturdy and she’s got plenty to say about love and those moments in life when you question everything.
Here’s the video for “When A Woman Goes Cold”
Mary Gauthier and Allison Moorer. 8 p.m. Tuesday. One Longfellow Square, 181 State St., Portland. $25 in advance, $30 day of show. onelongfellowsquare.com