Mary Gauthier and Jaimee Harris at the Hen and Chicken

BRISTOL’S leading songsters, including Lady Nade, headed for the Hen and Chicken in Bedminster to hear Nashville-based singer songwriters Mary Gauthier and Jaimee Harris this week, and Elles Bailey even joined them on stage for a couple of verses of Mercy Now, Mary’s best-known song.

I’ve been listing and previewing shows at this venue-above-the-pub for many years, but never before visited the popular comedy and music venue – and great it is, full of atmosphere and a buzzy, varied community of an audience.

Once again this original and unconventional hero of the country Americana scene filled the venue. Gauthier has a strong following across Europe as well as in America, where her uncompromising political views could set her at the other side of the wall from what we see as Country Fans. Her strength is to tell stories as they are, and she has even written a book about the healing power of song, unpicking the mysteries and alchemy of the process.

For the past decade she (and many other American songwriters) have been working with the men and women who have returned from Iraq and other wars, damaged and unable to fit in to “normal” life. With them, and their families, she has created a body of work released as Rifles and Rosary Beads, from which she performed the angrily felt Bullet Holes in the Sky, and The War after the War as part of her Bristol set.

Things have changed for Mary in recent years, and the biggest change has been a happy relationship with Texas-born Jaimee. Lockdown gave them an opportunity to hone their musical partnership.

After an impressive opening solo set, which included Tattoo Zoo, the first of a collection of songs inspired by Florida, to be released next Spring as an album, Jaimee added soaring country harmonies to Mary’s songs, along with bass riffs reminiscent of those big bearded offerings with added finesse. It’s hugely effective, and provides a new perspective to the familiar lyrics.

The new Gauthier album, Dark Enough to See the Stars, contributed three songs to the set, the peaceful The Meadow, the mournful Til I See You Again, dedicated to the late great John Prine, and the title track.

No Mary Gauthier gig is complete without the anthemic I Drink, performed with wry amusement from the woman brought up by an alcoholic adoptive father and herself a “recovering” addict since the age of 28.

By audience request she sang Drag Queens and Limousines, and also included Last of the Hobo Kings, Our Lady of the Shooting Stars, Another Train and more


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