A couple of months ago, I think, I found an extraordinary album on emusic, Dixie Kitchen by Mary Gauthier. It was twisted country music, with songs about aids, unhappy love affairs, growing up as a tomboy, unhappy love affairs, Jack Kerouac, an unhappy love affair … you may see a pattern emerging. But they were all good, and some were quite outstanding. So was the delivery: full of emotion but without self-pity or self-dramatisation. She was 35 when she made it, after a life almost too full of incident and excitement.
I thought she was the most interesting singer I had come across since Townes van Zandt, and shelled out for her three next albums from Cdbaby. What a tremendous disappointment. There were still two or three excellent songs on each, but someone had obviously told her she could be the next Springsteen. The production was obtrusively flawless. The words, which once had the kind of directness you need to convince a small live audience, have now inflated to Significance.
She’s still good, and still worth listening to. But the story shows how conventional and corrupt the aesthetic of “alternative” music is. Dixie Kitchen sounded as if she had just had the idea that anyone could make songs like this. The later ones sound as if they’re made for people who have heard lots of music almost like this before.