The Foundling - Her Story

Mary Gauthier has good reason to wear rose coloured glasses as her early life was hard and tragic - an orphan given up at birth by a mother she never knew. All of her music has been influenced by her past and many of her songs describe portions of it, for instance, Drag Queens in Limousines which describes her flight from her foster parents' home in a stolen car to a life on the outer edge of society. She has spent the past two years since her last CD, Between Daylight and Dark, working on a concept album that tells the story of her life. It was released early in Australia to coincide with her tour, and is called The Foundling. It was produced by Michael Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies, and uses Canadian musicians almost exclusively. Margo Timmins contributes her voice on harmony vocals.

This is Mary's second foray down under and anyone who saw her perform in January 2007 would have leapt at the chance to see her again. She won many new fans then and is sure to win more with this extended tour.

Brunswick Town Hall was probably the perfect venue for Mary to demonstrate her talents as a songwriter. It is small and intimate and acoustically sound.

Before Mary Gauthier's set, Canadian born, now Melbourne resident, Tracy McNeil and band took to the stage and performed an engaging set of seven songs. Tracy is an accomplished artist, and performs her very well written songs with passion and conviction. She has one CD available at the moment The House Where She Lives, though is working on another soon to be released record.

Tracy openly admits to being strongly influenced by the likes of Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams and Gillian Welch, but her own songs are individual mini masterpieces. Take The Queen of The Night, for instance, a beautiful melancholy song about staving off loneliness. She was accompanied by Matt Green on electric guitar, dobro and mandolin, with Bree Hartley on drums and Rod Boothroyd on double bass.

They were a quality support act and were warmly applauded by the audience, but of course it was Mary Gauthier we were all there to see…

An expectant hush fell over the audience when Mary Gauthier, accompanied by guitarist Ed Romanoff stepped onto the stage. Picking up her guitar, Mary discovered it was unplugged, but after that was sorted she launched into Last of the Hobo Kings, a song from Between Daylight And Dark. This was one of only four songs from her back catalogue that Mary performed on the night; the rest of the show was devoted to The Foundling, sung from start to finish.

However, before that, Mary fulfilled a request by singing I Drink, possibly her most famous song, and followed that with the title track of Between Daylight and Dark, a song co-written with sometime Australian tourist, Fred Eaglesmith. Mary remarked that Fred deserved to be recorded on a major label, but when she mentioned this to the man in question, his response was to create a new record label and name it "A Major Label".

Asking the audience's grace, Mary stated that she was going to perform The Foundling from start to finish. All the songs on this record are arranged in chronological order and tell a story.

What ensued was one of the most honest and powerful performances I have ever had the privilege to witness. The songs in the cycle have an unadorned truth incised into the lyrics and take the listener on a journey into the tortured life that was indeed Mary's own. It was as if she bared her soul, so sincere was her performance.

She acted out various parts, at one stage donning a top hat for the song Sideshow, and crossing her hands on her breast when singing the chorus of The Orphan King "I still believe in love"

Possibly the most powerful and heart breaking song is March 11, 1962 which, according to Mary, is a verbatim account of the only time she made contact with her birth mother at the age of 45. The telephone conversation is one sided, but the other side of the conversation is implicit in the lyrics.

The next song expresses the despair of rejection, the chorus being, "I'm gonna walk in the water till my hat floats away". The first time I heard those words on the record, it sent a chill up my spine, hearing them live was even more affecting.

After completing the entire cycle of songs, Mary retreated from the stage, no doubt emotionally and physically drained by the effort of telling her story. She returned of course for an encore of her other famous song, Mercy Now, and Killing the Blues a song written by Rowland Salley, which has been covered by diverse artists including Alison Krauss & Robert Plant and Chris Smither. Both songs struck me as an appropriate way to end the show and could almost be seen as postscripts to The Foundling story.

A word on Ed Romanoff, who provided extremely tasteful guitar backing on all the songs, and also sang harmony vocals on several of them, his presence was an enhancement that in no way upstaged the extraordinary Mary Gauthier. He collaborated with her in the production of The Foundling, so was the perfect choice to accompany her on her Australian Tour.

Before leaving the stage for the last time, Mary remarked that she had a Hatch Show Print poster for sale, ironically adding that Hatch Show Print must have downsized to design one of hers, they being famous for producing posters for stars like Elvis and Johnny Cash in the past.

She's selling herself short, I think.

Mary Gauthier is travelling through several states over the coming weeks and will be back in Melbourne on 26th March for a show at the East Brunswick Club and will be doing an in-store at Basement Discs on Saturday 27th. Check the gig guide for details.

Review and photos by Anne Sydenham

Set List

1. Last of the Hobo Kings
2. I Drink
3. Between the Daylight & the Dark

The Foundling
1. The Foundling
2. Mama Here, Mama Gone
3. Goodbye
4. Sideshow
5. Interludes
6. Blood is Blood
7. March 11, 1962
8. Walk in the Water
9. Interlude 2
10. Sweet Words
11. The Orphan King
12. Another Day Borrowed
13. Coda

1. Mercy Now
2. Killing The Blues

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