Mary Gauthier, Live at Blue Rock. If a knockout emotional punch is what you're looking for, start right here. Mary Gauthier, straight out of Louisana, has been decking listeners for a decade with the kind of songs that can sometimes be so strong it takes a heavyweight to go the distance with her. This is her first live album, and it's the kind of stunner that can only come from someone who's absolutely ready to turn on the heat with a sackful of the very best songs from a stellar catalogue. And Gauthier has that in spades. What she really is is a short story writer who can telegraph entire lives in the matter of a few verses and intriguing chords, then deliver them with the kind of voice capable of tearing our insides in two. There is a simple devastation at the woman's core, no doubt charged by a hard childhood that almost took her all the way down. Finding music, after opening a Cajun restaurant in Boston, opened a door to salvation that the singer stepped through and never looked back. Mary Gauthier's background included characters of the highest and lowest order, and most of them walk through songs like "Our Lady of the Shooting Stars," "Your Sister Cried" and "Drag Queens in Limousines" with their heads held high and their eyes down low. These are serious people, and the person who created them is the most serious of all. She may not be a household name—yet—but Ms. Gauthier is well on her way to musical majesty. Hearing how she paints a room in Wimberley, Texas in haunting colors this night is to discover just how majestic she can be.
Aaron Neville, My True Story. Imagine wandering into Benny's bar in Neville territory up on Valence Street in New Orleans during the early '80s. The brothers were kings of the Crescent City, but also were known to gather close to the house on occassion for some down home frolics. Maybe their friend Keith Richards was on guitar, and drummer George G. Receli's trashcan sound (a high compliment) was fueling the room so the dance floor threatened to tilt off its foundation. Aaron Neville held the microphone in a death grip, pouring his honeyed voice over classics like the Clovers' "Money Honey," Curtis Mayfield's "Gypsy Woman" and Hank Ballard's "Work with Me Annie." Time has stopped, and there is no need to worry about anything outside these four walls at Benny's. Who knows: possibly Burma Jones from A Confederacy of Dunces was working the room, and even Miss Trixie was getting her ya-yas out? Everything about Neville's new album feels like a snapshot of rhythm and blues at its very finest. Not exactly doo-wop as is being reported, these dozen songs are likely the ones everyone all remembered in the studio last year when the sessions started rolling, and the way such warm frivolity fell into place tipped producers Richards and Don Was they'd been dealt a bigtime winning hand and all they really needed to do was press "record." Because when push comes to pull and the monkey time has appeared in full view, that's when musical mysticism gets made. Aaron Neville is an American hero, someone who's done time, drugs and even tasted doom, only to be reborn again and again to fly another day. Listen to him and his buddies soar up where they belong.
Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, Texas Flood. There wasn't anything like this album when it was released 30 years ago. Blues was basically in abeyance, as MTV had shifted the music business to visuals being the new god and the gritty grace that comes from blues had become a bastard child at best. Stevie Ray Vaughan changed all that, through the power of his playing and the steely resolve that marked everything he touched. While not a tall man, Vaughan quickly became a giant across the land. His debut album was recorded in a matter of days of free time donated by Jackson Browne in his Los Angeles studio. What occurred there still sounds like healing of the highest order, as the guitarist's Stratoscaster reached for the heavens from note one on "Love Struck Baby," and kept going deeper and harder on the next nine songs. The rock world hadn't been offered electric blues so striking since the Paul Butterfield Blues Band's debut album in 1965, and sadly, hasn't heard anyone like Vaughan since. Every single song on Texas Flood unfolds like a path into the world beyond this life, a place where blues feels like the only solace for the hurt and pain humans so often call home. The true beauty of all this noise is how it holds off every hardship thrown our way. You have to be open to that kind of gift, but it's been working since slaves sang in the fields and continues even into outer space. And make no mistake: Stevie Ray Vaughan is the man who has taken it there, even past his too-early death in 1990. There's a second disc of a live '83 show in Philadelphia that reflects the promise of everything that was to come for Vaughan, drummer Chris Layton and bassist Tommy Shannon. Their world was just starting to turn back then, and would soon open up to a safe haven for the deepest music of the soul. Have mercy.