Mary Gauthier's 11th album, the exquisite Rifles & Rosary Beads, is a collaboration between the American songwriter and the non-profit Songwriting With:Soldiers. The organization, which partners veterans and active soldiers with musicians to document their experiences in service and afterward, has found a perfect partner in Gauthier. The singer carries all the pain of the world in her voice. She rarely strains above a whisper, and her subtle delivery embeds the songs in the listener's mind.
These are story songs, a form that Mary Gauthier has mastered. The collection reveals soldiers wrestling with the guilt of survival, the double-edge sword of pain and addiction, and forms of loneliness that only veterans truly understand.
The results are heartbreaking; Gauthier's fragile rendering of "It's Her Love," with the raw repetition of the title, could make a statue cry. "Iraq," which documents the harassment of a female soldier left without "anyone to trust," reveals the internal conflicts within the ranks that have been overlooked for generations. The album's closing song, "Stronger Together," sums up part of the soldier's experience on the home front: "They say no man's left behind / but that ain't true / They hate it that they need us / but they do."
With Rifles & Rosary Beads, Mary Gauthier has offered a bridge between soldiers who sacrificed more than they'd offered and civilians who often do their best to ignore the wounds we've allowed. The album brings suffering, both visible and the kind that is a harder to see, to the forefront. What we do with the human cost of war — ignore, medicate, demonize — reflects on the character of the nation itself. Rifles & Rosary Beads offers not only a document of atrocity and neglect, but a chance for redemption and healing. (Thirty Tigers)