Album Review: Mary Gauthier – Rifles and Rosary Beads

Deeply personal and inspiring, Rifles and Rosary Beads is Mary Gauthier’s most important work to date. The fact that all 12 tracks comprising the album were co-written with U.S veterans and their families renders it an authentic and sincere narrative on contemporary American existence.

Gauthier has worked with wounded veterans and active duty military to create a range of emotionally-charged pieces reflecting the struggles of military life; through musical craftsmanship, cohesion and understanding, all parties included bring these people’s stories to life through music.     

Each struggle conveyed is presented with thoughtful and carefully mastered lyrics depicting various perspectives on the experience of war. Whilst “Iraq” portrays the distressing experienced endured by female military members – an issue predominantly caused by the rampant misogyny that continues to govern the U.S. army – “The War After The War” illuminates the struggle that soldiers returning home face in their reintegration in society.

The phrase ‘landmines in the living room and eggshells on the floor’ interlaces domestic and war imagery to illustrate the lingering effect that conflict exerts over the returned soldier. Similar, the line “Who’s gon’ care for the ones who care for the ones who went to war”, will indubitably resonate with listeners touched by the after effects of war with its frank and desperate tone.

Gauthier and her comrades continue to address this challenging theme with delicacy most prominently in “Soldiering On” – particularly in the stinging line ‘What saves you in the battle can kill you at home’ – and the painful images of mental anguish depicted in “Stronger Together”.  

The artist’s principal use of folk and Americana is present throughout the sequence, nodding quietly to her earlier work, especially to “Trouble & Love”, an album that received extensive from the press, listeners and critics. Additionally, the use of blue-esque guitar playing and sorrowful violins replicates the mellow melancholy that exists at the heart of country and western music.

A calm resignation to life and its numerous toils resonates throughout every track, forming a backdrop that supports Gauthier’s clear-cut vocals fervently, most notably in bittersweet ballad “Bullet Holes In The Sky”.  

Wailing harmonicas appearing in the album’s eponymous track, “It’s Her Love” and “Still On The Ride” induce a harshness into the texture of the sequence, a severity that mirrors the terror and turmoil of war through sound.  

An endearing collection produced through the non-profit organisation Songwriting With Soldiers, it is as important as it is lyrical. An invaluable insight to a colossal event that continues to affect its victims today.

Megan Wood

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