You hear the expression all the time: a “highly anticipated album.” But in the case of Mary Gauthier’s Rifles and Rosary Beads, there’s documentary evidence that the label applies.
Advance coverage by NPR, the Los Angeles Times, American Songwriter and many other outlets - not to mention the emotional subject matter of the concept album - suggests that when these story songs are released this Friday, Gauthier’s worldwide audience, and then some, will be paying close attention.
Rifles and Rosary Beads features 11 songs drawn from Gauthier’s five years of participating in the program Songwriting With Soldiers. Established by Austin musician Darden Smith, it pairs active duty or veteran soldiers with professional songwriters in a retreat setting. The program’s billed as “a unique path to helping soldiers, their families, communities and our nation cope with the aftermath of combat duty and the challenges in returning home.”
Gauthier says the process is grounded in listening and helping soldiers tell their stories in their own words. Once there's trust and vulnerability, remarkable turns of phrase and universal truths emerge, and its her job to capture those and apply the songwriter's craft. She likens the process of transforming trauma to songs as one of "alchemy."
But it’s not all cases of combat veterans with post traumatic stress disorder. “The War After The War” came from a conversation Gauthier had with a group of military wives.
“And when I (played my opening line) they all went YES!," she said. "And once you have the anchor of the song and they’re going you nailed how I feel then you start painting it in from there.”
Gauthier tells WMOT that through Songwriting With Soldiers, she’s worked with and grown to love a wide variety of people who come from far outside her experience and political background.
“These people have taught me what true service looks like - what true sacrifice is. They humble me every single time.”
For the full, in-depth conversation with Mary Gauthier, tune into The String Sunday morning at 8 and Monday night at 9 here on WMOT.