Rifles & Rosary Beads
In The Black Records
There are songwriters…and then there’s Mary Gauthier.
Since 1997 on her debut album Dixie Kitchen up to her newest, Gauthier has penned moments of brilliance that like the work of Leonard Cohen or Kristofferson contain a line or phrase that takes your breath away. She deals in raw emotion, forgiveness – or not. A song such as “Mercy Now” or “When A Woman Goes Cold” are initially unsettling, so unadorned is the passion, so true and brilliant the words.
But nothing prepares you for her newest, Rifles & Rosary Beads. Written with young combat veterans, the 11 cuts found here are both gut wrenching and revelatory, brutally honest and unsparing. Gauthier was encouraged to work with the group SongwritingWith:Soldiers by fellow songwriter Darrell Scott, and the result is one of the most emotive works of art you’ll ever hear. The men and women Gauthier wrote with are veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and it’s their stories brought to life here. America as a whole no longer thinks too much about our military conflicts and the troops fighting them, and the young people that put themselves in harm’s way face insurmountable challenges both abroad – and once they get home. Once the parades and awards have passed, they deal with injuries, both physical and mental, with loved ones that can only offer compassion in lieu of actually understanding what their heroes went thru and continue to cope with.
The songs here are gritty and honest, such as the magnificent “Bullet Holes In The Sky” – a sobering look at Veterans Day: “And they thank me for my service and wave their little flags/They genuflect on Sundays and yes, they’d send us back” or a female vet’s struggle with sexual harassment and abuse on “Iraq”. These songs give us a glimpse into a life most of us have no idea about. They are tales of heroism, of sacrifice, of having your brother’s back (“Got Your Six”), of pain and being forgotten – and forgiven.
Rifles & Rosary Beads is Mary Gauthier’s masterpiece, and yet she seems almost a secondary character in it, so compelling and real are the words of the vets. This is not an easy listen – and shouldn’t be. These people have a story to tell, to a nation that by and large have overlooked them, and can’t understand why they did what they did. Mary Gauthier has given them an outlet, and while painful, we’re all the better for it.