Mary Gauthier’s “Rifles & Rosary Beads” channels trauma and catharsis into beautiful music

Mary Gauthier channels veterans’ truths
Photo by Laurie Partain

Touring has always been career lifeblood for singer-songwriters, and Mary Gauthier is no exception, even though she’s heard her songs on a variety of television shows and recorded by the likes of Tim McGraw and Bettye LaVette. That said, a determined sense of mission surrounds her concert schedule in 2018. When she returns to McCabe’s this Saturday with violinist Michele Gazich, she will once again be performing songs from “Rifles & Rosary Beads,” the album she wrote with wounded veterans and which has arguably helped refocus public attention on soldiers’ wartime experiences and civilian readjustment.

“Rifles & Rosary Beads,” which earned an Album of the Year nomination at September’s Americana Music Association awards ceremony, and which is likely to grace year’s-best lists, has also garnered some of the most impressive reviews of Gauthier’s respected career. It’s music of consequence. Songs like “Bullet Holes in the Sky” and “The War After the War” (voicing sacrifices made by partners) reflect the hard gravity of our time while achieving uplift by conveying the catharsis soldiers discovered while channeling their trauma into song with Gauthier’s empathetic support.

The 11 songs arose from
sessions hosted by Songwriting-With:Soldiers, a nonprofit founded by singer-songwriter Darden Smith in Austin that pairs combat veterans with professional songwriters, including Gauthier, who has been working with the group for five years. Individually, the songs move. Collectively, they make a weighty statement with dignified compassion.

Gauthier has created entire albums about her own traumatic struggles with addiction, sexuality, alienation and her adopted family, and so intuitively understands what veterans need: to feel heard.

“I think we have the Civil War diaries of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan,” she said in a March interview with The Argonaut. “We’ve got the voices of our veterans in these songs.”

— Bliss Bowen

Mary Gauthier returns to McCabe’s Guitar Shop (3101 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica) at 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8. Tickets are $26.50. Call (310) 828-4497 or visit