Mary Gauthier has built her career on honest, sometimes brutally and achingly self-confessional songs. This is the first time that she has focused on experiences other than her own, and it could become not only the strongest album of her career but, in its own way, a landmark album. "Rifles and Rosary Beads" was co-written over the period of a few years with U.S. veterans and their families, revealing untold and powerful stories that veterans faced abroad, returning home and that their spouses faced on both accounts.
More than 7,400 current and former members of the armed forces commit suicide each year. Awareness of the harrowing experiences veterans endure is often pushed aside because it is so painful to endure. Yet, music has long been hailed as a healing force and is at the heart of a non-profit program, Songwriting With Soldiers. Participants have extolled the program as life changing, and for some, even lifesaving.
Gauthier is prominent among several Nashville-based artists to give immense attention to this effort founded by fellow singer-songwriter Darden Smith in 2012. She deals with several aspects of veteran plight. "The War After The War" deals with the strain of living with someone who has returned, while "Iraq" chronicles the helpless feeling of a female mechanic being sexually harassed by fellow soldiers. "Bulletholes in the Sky" with these lyrics depict the mix emotions of being a veteran "They thank me for my service and wave their little flags/They genuflect on Sundays and yes they'd send us back/But I believe in God and country and in angels up on high/And in heaven shining down on us through bullets in the sky."
The album was produced by Neilson Hubbard who also plays drums alongside guitarist/vocalist Will Kimbrough and assisting vocals from Beth Nielsen Chapman and Odessa Settles, among others. All co-writers are either active or veteran service members or their spouses providing vivid and often searing emotional details perfect for Gauthier's distinctive emotive vocals.
The importance of this effort cannot be overstated. It's as cathartic for others as anything Gauthier has written autobiographically. More importantly, it helps the listener understand these issues in a direct, less painful way and helps the soldiers heal at the same time.