On previous albums, Mary Gauthier's signature as a songwriter has been a brutal honesty balanced by rough-hewn tenderness. Nowhere is that more true than on Trouble & Love, a song cycle that journeys through devastating heartbreak and its attendant states: grief, anger, accountability, acceptance, and what lies beyond. She assembled her road band and an all-star cast of singers, co-writers, and players, including Beth Nielsen Chapman, the McCrary Sisters, Viktor Krauss, Darrell Scott, and Ashley Cleveland. Recording live in the round in Ricky Skaggs' Nashville studio, there was little pre-rehearsal and no headphones were used. To paraphrase Gauthier, she didn't want the album to sound real, but be real. "When a Woman Goes Cold," was co-written with Gretchen Peters. In the language of slow electric folk blues, she sings: "You're no longer her concern/Scorched earth cannot burn...." From inside this emotional wreckage, Gauthier begins a transformative journey. "False from True," co-written with Chapman, is a folk song: "You woke up inside a cage/I woke up consumed with rage/A million miles from our first kiss/How does love turn into this?...There are two of you and one don't feel/I don't know which one is real...." She knows both are. The lilting piano, arco bassline, and fingerpicked guitar, illustrate bewilderment and vulnerability. "Oh Soul," a duet with Scott, employs country gospel as Gauthier confesses --to herself, not a god--accountability at the site of Robert Johnson's grave. On the sparse Americana of "Worthy," she sings: "Worthy, worthy, what a thing to claim/Worthy, worthy, ashes into flame..." as accountability becomes awareness; blame is pointless. "How You Learn to Live Alone" is framed by Duane Eddy's reverb-laden, slow country picking and a Hammond B-3. The lyrics reveal the state in which Gauthier regained emotional independence after the net of belonging is revealed as illusion: "You release resistance/Give in to the wind/Until the rain comes pourin' in/You sit in the rubble/Until it feels like home/That's how you learn to live alone." Eddy's guitar caresses her vocal as she surrenders -- not despairs. "Another Train" is about carrying her scars as part of life's ragged richness, constantly arriving and departing, its meaning ever present but mysterious. She expresses self-forgiveness and, more importantly, accepts it. The story isn't over at the record's nadir. The "happy ending" is elusive; these songs take place inside an evolving continuum. But Gauthier's discovery is that she can not only absorb this raw experience, but embrace it, becoming stronger and more compassionate than before, which is its own reward. Trouble & Love is unlike other "heartbreak and healing" albums; its hard-won, experiential, Buddhist-like wisdom borders on the profound.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek