Mary Gauthier Credit: Laura Partain

Mary Gauthier has often looked to her turbulent past for subject matter for her poetic, hardscrabble songs; amid flinty folk rock she’s openly grappled with being adopted as a child and her struggles with addiction and heartbreak. But on Rifles & Rosary Beads (In the Black/Thirty Tigers), her first album in four years, she turned outward to work with SongWritingWith: Soldiers, a program that brings veteran and active-duty members of the U.S. military together with songwriters to create music informed by their time serving their country in a therapeutic, collaborative context. Each of the 11 songs on the record was written with participants in that project; Gauthier gives a voice to their stories, which recount a wide range of harrowing experiences and their aftereffects on their lives. The opening track, “Soldiering On,” could easily descend into jingoistic heroism with its selfless sentiment “I was bound to something bigger / More important than a single human life” until Gauthier sings, “But what saves you in the battle / Can kill you at home,” indicating that things are never that simple. With unflinching detail “The War After the War” examines the experiences of those left behind when a loved one goes to fight—and what they encounter upon the soldier’s return: “There’s no going back in time, I know you’re not the same / But you are not the only one for whom the world has changed,” Gauthier sings in a clenched drawl, with no shortage of empathy in her delivery. The lean arrangements triangulate organically around country, rock, and folk—a deeply American fabric that’s perpetually used to house everyday struggles, losses, and victories.   v