Published May 27, 2010Noted American roots singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier may hail from the South, but she looked to the Great White North for the recording of her seventh album, The Foundling. The record, which was released earlier this month on Razor & Tie, was made in Toronto, and produced by Michael Timmins of Cowboy Junkies.
Timmins and Gauthier assembled an A-list supporting cast primarily composed of Canadian musicians, including bassist Josh Finlayson (Skydiggers), drummer Ray Ferrugia (Junkhouse), fiddle player Tania Elizabeth, keyboardist Jesse O'Brien, accordionist Jaro Czerwinic (Cowboy Junkies), legendary Band keyboardist Garth Hudson, and Cowboy Junkies singer Margo Timmins.
Michael Timmins recently explained the genesis of the project to Exclaim!, saying, "Mary was in the process of looking for producers. She was coming to Toronto for a show and her manager [who is also the Cowboy Junkies manager] suggested that we get together and talk. Over a meal she talked about her vision for the album and then we went to my studio and she ran through all of the songs on the album in the exact order that she heard them. It was pretty obvious from my point of view that this was something that I really wanted to get involved with. The songs were so well-written and carried so much weight. It was a very intense little session."
Gauthier is full of praise for Timmins's production work, telling Exclaim!, "Michael's approach as a producer too is that less is more. He is really careful not to overproduce, and I really appreciate that. I went in with the voice and guitar, just raw bones, and we figured it out together. He put together the rhythm section and we figured out how to flesh them out."
Timmins explains that "Mary approaches her music much like I approach my own. It's all about instinct and gut feel. Neither of us is schooled so we spent our time talking about 'feels,' 'grooves' and 'vibes.' Not a word of music theory passed through our lips."
He describes the recording process, which took place in the Clubhouse studio in Toronto's Little Italy neighbourhood, as "exceptionally smooth and very enjoyable. I thought that the best way to capture the emotional punch of the songs was to get as much live performance from Mary as possible. I felt that the lyrics carried so much weight that I was aware of keeping them the focus of the album. I thought that the best way to do that was to keep it simple, just Mary and her guitar accompanied by bass and drums."
The Foundling is described as an autobiographical song cycle, one beginning with the real-life experience of Gauthier being adopted at birth. She terms the making of this record "absolutely cathartic," adding, "Even more so it gave me a format to understand my story. By writing and telling it, I make sense of it. It is not just a series of events that happened and left me traumatized and are floating around in my head and I don't know what is going on and I'm acting weird. It's more of a beginning, a middle and an end and an opportunity to make sense of the experiences and put them in a format where I can receive the lessons that one would receive if one was looking for the lessons."
Gauthier has lined up several North American and European dates in support of The Foundling, including a Canadian stop at the Islands Folk Festival in Duncan, BC, July 24 to 25. You can see a full list of her tour dates here.
For his part, Timmins's focus is now upon the launch of a brand new Cowboy Junkies album, Renmin Park. As previously reported, this is the first of four releases planned over the next 18 months, collectively named The Nomad Series.