Rifles & Rosary Beads – Mary Gauthier (reviewed by Ian O’Regan)

Mary Gauthier Rifles & Rosary BeadsThis album is a product of one of the most noble, useful, and shamefully necessary programmes in place in the USA related to the support of military veterans. Songwriting With Soldiers is a non-profit programme that brings professional songwriters together with wounded vets and active service personnel. The results have been life-changing, even life-saving, for the participants.

 The results compiled on this album are also compelling and insightful, but not necessarily easy to listen to. Where some styles of war/protest/aftermath songs describe in the abstract, or are crafted to be accessible and familiar to non-military audiences – think Eric Bogle’s style in, for example, The Green Fields Of France or The Band Played Waltzing Mathilda – the profoundly personal nature of all of the stories here mean that these songs will neither welcome the listener in comfortably nor wash over him as background muzak.

Rather, a little time, attention and investment is required to focus on each of the stories. Be warned; this is not likely to be a comfortable experience.

Whether you consider it to be a rewarding and worthwhile experience will depend largely on your tendency to empathise or to sympathise with, or to get angry about, the plight of the people who put themselves in harm’s way on our behalf.

The structures and formats of all the songs are essentially simple – given that the songwriters are not professional or experienced, this is no surprise – and so we are in the realms of old-school folk protest song formats throughout. This is not a criticism by any means! Simplicity has always served talented songwriters well, and that simplicity makes these stories accessible – and in the case of highlights like “Bullet Holes In The Sky”, the lack of stylistic distraction makes the song all the more powerful.

This is an important album, as much for the process of its creation as for the potential impact of the content on the listener. If only the power brokers at the root cause of all of these stories – and the tens of thousands of stories like them – would take the time to listen.

Rifles and Rosary beads is out on Proper Records, January 26th

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