Album Review: Mary Gauthier – Rifles & Rosary Beads

Rifles and Rosary Beads marks the monumental 11th album from country-folk star Mary Gauthier since her humble beginnings just over twenty years ago when she started out back in 1997. Having been working in the industry all this time Gauthier has become a household name of country music and has a wealth of talent and experience to her name.

Rifles and Rosary Beads is a truly astounding album, filled with dark and sombre folk and country melodies that occasionally clash with subtle blues tunes and deep, powerful vocals. However, it isn’t simply the melodies that are tinged with darkness. As suggested by the albums title it is somewhat of a comment on war and whilst hauntingly beautiful sits far from the scale of ‘uplifting’. Gauthier isn’t simply a talented musician, she is also a fierce and masterful storyteller with the uncanny ability to pluck your emotions like her guitar strings. The music almost plays second fiddle to her warm, soothing voice as she tells her stories through song. These tales are a touching collection of songs that are powerfully evocative, including so many of the harsh realities of war including displacement, PTSD and the inevitable death.

Tinged with poignancy and a truly painful sadness that comes from the violence of war this album is far from a pick-me-up to listen to but at the same time it feels as though this should be compulsory listening for the next generation. The way Gautier brings her words to like digs deep into your empathy as she touches on so many different aspects of war from different perspectives. The album almost feels like a tender eulogy for all who have been lost and all who might be lost again. A tender and beautiful homage to lives that have been ended too soon. It’s immensely difficult not to feel her words cut straight through your heart, even harder not to feel the ache left by her words.

Gauthier keeps her supporting music soft and simple; slide guitar that carefully balances out the gentle drum beats and a softly swaying violin like you might find someone playing in a Texan saloon. Add to this a touch of campfire harmonica and you’ve got a healthy set of tunes that play out like the spirit of country music itself. It just so happens that as Gauthier’s soft, Southern lilt ebbs out into the world as sweet and slick as molasses that her music is subtly overshadowed by her powerful imagery. Rifles and Rosary Beads might not be an album that will lift your spirits but it is an album that can make you feel sorrow, pain, loss and gratitude all in the space of one song – it is a deep and emotional project that deserves to be heard across the world.

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Review by Joe Knipe

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