has been around for years, making some of the most arresting, honest music available in the singer-songwriter world. Her story songs tackle everything from teen angst to being lost in love, to hobos and the search for her birth mother. These are intense subjects, no matter how you slice them and, in the wrong hands, could be precarious and over-the-top. Gauthier, however, handles them with a certain delicate humanity, spotlighting all the ways in which these are universal experiences. Recorded live at the Blue Rock Artist Ranch and Studio outside Austin, Tex., it's not surprising that Gauthier was able to deliver a great performance with an impressive backing band.
The Difference Between the Studio and the Stage
Mary Gauthier is an artist whose work doesn't change all that much from the stage to the studio. Some artists find it difficult to capture the energy of a live show - the humor and raw honesty, and everything between - when they get into a studio. They play off a crowd and find themselves at a loss when they head somewhere to make an album. So, they spend their time in the studio trying to create a "mood" for the disc. They add layers and different sounds, different voices and instruments, to make up for space left by the absence of a live audience.
I'm not sure about whether or not Gauthier seeks to create a mood in the studio, but the finished product sounds completely natural and uncontrived. For Gauthier, this method works in the opposite direction. She's been known to bring in different instrumentalists depending on where she is on the road, and each time, they deliver a different layer into the song which didn't exist in the studio (or in any other show). In the case of Live at Blue Rock, the wild card is fiddler Tania Elizabeth (best known for her work in the now-defunct genre-defiant Canadian stringband the Duhks).
Gauthier's performance is pretty much the same as it always is - her consistency is not to be taken for predictability, though. It's the mark of an expert performer who never drops the ball and never veers from the very best way to perform her songs. She can tap it in the studio, she can tap it onstage. The difference here is Elizabeth's heavy-sawing articulations. They shape the songs the way an expert ice sculptor shapes a block of delicate ice with a powerful, grumbling chainsaw - there's that same rattling, dangerous quality; that same delicate gruffness. Hers is a mighty instrument which she wields artfully, augmenting Gauthier's songs and occasionally stealing the spotlight. Whether or not that's a good thing, is up to the listener.
The Bottom Line
There are some great performances on this disc, but - aside from Tania Elizabeth's playing - it doesn't offer anything remarkably different from what you might find on any of Gauthier's studio albums. As a separate collection, it might serve to unwitting introduce friends and family to what they might expect when you convince them to go to her show with you. Whether or not the disc holds any special something you can't find, is probably subjective and will differ between Gauthier's most loyal fans.
Those unfamiliar with her work can approach this disc as a sort of greatest hits introduction to her remarkable catalog. From "Blood Is Blood" (purchase/download) to "Drag Queens in Limousines" (purchase/download) and "I Drink" (purchase/download), Live at Blue Rock does include some of her finest compositions,indeed.