Mary Gauthier

The Foundling

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Singer and songwriter Mary Gauthier's recordings have always been peopled with the restless and lost, some terminally, others temporally. Her protagonists ask lots of questions. Some of them are nakedly transparent mirror images of herself or thinly disguised representations. She's conscious of it, because in her songs the only things that matter are the questions. She strips everything unnecessary in order to ask them unflinchingly. On The Foundling, she asks the biggest questions of all: "Who am I?," "Where do I come from?," and "What do I do when I find out?" Gauthier was surrendered shortly after her birth to an orphanage, where she remained for a year before being adopted. She ran away at age 15 and never went back. After a raucous wandering spirit's life worthy of a Townes Van Zandt tale, she found her place in the world as a songwriter. She eventually tracked her birth mother down, who, in a phone conversation, ultimately refused to meet with her. Gauthier's records have never been easy emotionally, but this one is beyond loaded. That said, it's devoid of self-pity or any other trappings that could -- and more often than not do -- make many purposely autobiographical albums musical failures. Gauthier recorded The Foundling in Canada with producer Michael Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies; the pair used local musicians as well as Timmins' sister Margo on backing vocals. Timmins documented these songs without artifice. Backed by (mostly) acoustic instruments, his mix is natural and intimate. Gauthier uses folk, country, bluegrass, gospel, and her trademark gothic Americana to detail her story from the beginning, where an insatiable hole was dug to a conclusion where acceptance became the rite of redemption. The road is precarious; some of Gauthier's lines are scathing in their poetic observations and revelations. She co-wrote some of the album's best songs: "March 11, 1962" and "Sideshow" with Liz Rose, "Another Day Borrowed" with Darrell Scott, and "Blood Is Blood" with Crit Harmon, though others are superior to even these. One has to wonder if these collaborations were to keep her balance and focus on such a risky tightrope. Whatever the strategy, it works magnificently. There is no album in her catalog like The Foundling; it's a terrible beauty whose jewels gleam darkly, endlessly. Its songs hold truth for anyone who has either shared this experience or merely has the willingness to ask difficult questions with an open heart.

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