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Rifles and Rosary Beads is the fruit of Americana icon Mary Gauthier’s years-long work for the non-profit group SongwritingWith:Soldiers. Penned by military veterans and their families, the album’s lyrics serve as a jolting reminder of war’s devastating toll on the men and women who serve and fight. Pain and struggle can produce powerful art, and the work here is no exception. These lovingly crafted folk-rock tunes and their intimate production represent Gauthier’s strongest work since 2005’s award-winning Mercy Now.
Here, Gauthier’s collaborations teem with storytelling wisdom worthy of Woody Guthrie and Prine. In “Soldiering On,” the vocalist assumes the voice of a man not quite back from the war, singing “what saves you in the battle can kill you at home.” Her mournful melodies—paired with the subtle instrumentation of talented session musicians like guitarist Will Kimbrough—allow the full measure of each soldier’s feelings to haunt the listener long after the album concludes. For “The War After the War,” Gauthier presents the plight of overlooked casualties, asking: “Who’s gonna care for the ones who care for the ones who went to war?/There’s land mines in the living room and eggshells on the floor.” With Rifles and Rosary Beads, Gauthier and company have made music that truly matters.
The record is mastered by Nashville legend Jim DeMain and produced by long-time collaborator and drummer Neilson Hubbard. They created a sound notable for spacious, meditative, and somewhat raw qualities that keep with the spirit of the sessions. Pressed at Quality Record Pressings in Kansas, the flat and quiet LP epitomizes new-release vinyl done right. The only regret is the absence of a lyric sheet.
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