Gauthier at home in dark places
CAMBRIDGE - Monday night, Mary Gauthier returned to what she calls her "home club," Club Passim, where she started and the place she credits with nurturing her when she "really sucked." She's a long way from that state now; her new release, "Between Daylight and Dark," which provided the bulk of the evening's 90-minute set, is the latest, and maybe the strongest, testament to that fact.
Although this was billed as a solo show, she brought local singer-songwriter Mark Erelli onstage to accompany her with his stellar guitar-playing and harmonizing for most of her set (and graciously insisted he sing two of his songs).
She started off with some extended storytelling about the making of the new record: of sitting in a hotel room in Amsterdam, trying to write, and coming across an obituary on the Internet for the hobo Steam Train Maury, which inspired the troubadour gem "Last of the Hobo Kings."
She then hilariously recounted her brush with one of the Nashville approaches to songwriting, the co-writing appointment. Not surprisingly, it turns out that their ways are not her ways, and the inadvertent result was a song, "Sideshow," which did not end up on her new record.
That ended the happy portion of the show; "the rest," said Gauthier, "is miserable." She was joking, but she wasn't lying. Gauthier is a singer of sad songs, one who dwells, she pointed out before singing the title song of her new record, in the sad space between the daylight and the dark. The songs she drew from her latest - from the ominous "Snakebit" to the struggles and spirit of perseverance articulated in "I Ain't Leaving" - showed that she remains an unparalleled practitioner of the alchemy of wringing beauty from misery.
She provided a hint of respite at the end of the show with an intense, grinding rendition of "Wheel Inside the Wheel" (the most hopeful song she's ever written, she noted) and, to close, the deep humanity of "Mercy Now."