Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Mary Gauthier: Rifles and Rosary Beads [In the Black, 2018]
The gritty recovering alcoholic wrote these 11 grave, felt, angry, deliberate songs with service members, veterans, and spouses via a Nashville project called SongwritingWith:Soldiers. But examine the list of collaborators and see why it had better be "members," not "men"--five of the eight soldiers and all of the spouses are women, so that women alone write seven tracks. There's "Brothers": "I was just like you when the bullets flew / I had your back you had mine too / Brothers in arms your sisters covered you / Don't that make us your brothers too?" There's also "Iraq," in which a mechanic with grease under her nails finds herself compelled to fend off male soldiers who are supposed to be on her side. On the other hand, one of the men writes "It's Her Love" for his wife: "When I'm broken and I push her away / She fights her way back she's with me to stay." But mostly what's stressed is respect for common service--documenting battle's brutal grind, celebrating the survivals it's been all of the cowriters' lifework to fight for one way or another, citing the many kinds of injury the combatants came home with, remembering their dead as guardian angels. Without moralizing more than a crack, all of these writers honor shared struggle without papering over how hard that can be: "They say no man's left behind but that ain't true / They hate it that they need us but they do." The record flinches sometime--wouldn't you? But it refuses to break. A-