MARY GAUTHIER > Between Daylight and Dark

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Embedded in a striking piano chord lurch, Mary Gauthier’s creaky cottonmouth cries out “Oh Lord, what have I done” on the opening track of her latest Lost Highway effort, Between Daylight and Dark
Ms. Gauthier sets the mood of palatable dread with visions of “demon shadows” dancing around in the protagonist’s head when she “wrap(s) (her hands) around the handle of a gun.”

Label: Lost Highway
Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Embedded in a striking piano chord lurch, Mary Gauthier’s creaky cottonmouth cries out “Oh Lord, what have I done” on the opening track of her latest Lost Highway effort, Between Daylight and Dark. 
Ms. Gauthier sets the mood of palatable dread with visions of “demon shadows” dancing around in the protagonist’s head when she “wrap(s) (her hands) around the handle of a gun.”

It sounds like one of Robert Johnson’s long-lost murder ballads. And Ms. Gauthier, with her bourbon-soaked voice, kicks you Dead Square in the gut. Welcome to the Hellhouse, kid.

Yes, Between Daylight and Dark is a downer album. It’s a slog to get through, sometimes, but an enjoyable journey, nonetheless. And this pitch-black novella from a self-proclaimed lesbian who’s made a bush league career out of crafting well-detailed slices of unflinchingly brutal, Faulkner-ian Americana from the painfully indignant (“Goddamn HIV”) to the scorned lover fire-and-fury (“Falling Out of Love”).

Unlike her 2005 breakthrough of Southern gothic beddy-bye tales, Mercy Now, Gauthier isn’t channeling a Lucinda-Williams-off-Prozac bid for No Depression tastemaker-dom. (Gurf Morlix, who worked with Williams in the past and was under the Universal subsidiary’s thumb, churned out cowboy angst that would feel right at home on an etown broadcast.)

On Between Daylight and Dark, famed producer Joe Henry, himself no stranger to down-and-out junkyard pop, lets Ms. Gauthier do her thing. He captures the raw grit of Ms. Gauthier’s rough-and-tumble lyrics and lets her fully inhabit that world of boozers and losers.

This isn’t to say that Between Daylight and Dark reads completely like a Deep South soundtrack to an Alan Ball melodrama. Occasionally, the chorus swells and a glimmer of hope peeks through the post-Katrina desolation of “Can’t Find the Way” and pedal steel wail of “Soft Place to Land.”

It’s a nice respite from all darkness, but frankly, we like Ms. Gauthier best when she stays out of the daylight.

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