Meredith Ochs
February 07, 2005 AT 05:00 AM EST

On the cinematic opener of Mercy Now, her fourth CD, Mary Gauthier (it’s pronounced Go-SHAY) uses a tawdry ghost-town hotel as a metaphor for an unraveling relationship. As a steel guitar howls and birds of prey circle, ”casting vulture shadows on barren beds,” it’s clear that Americana is not a sepia-toned romantic notion for this singer-songwriter. Her song portraits are stark and brutal. The beauty of Gauthier’s country noir lies in the humanity of her characters, and in the sweet yearning of her gruff Louisiana drawl.

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