Mary Gauthier has worn many metaphorical hats in her career. She emerged from a drug-abuse/teenage-runaway past in Louisiana to become a serious student of philosophy in college, then became a renowned Cajun-cooking chef in Boston.
In her early 40s, she became one of Nashville’s most promising new songwriters with her 2005 breakthrough “Mercy Now.”
But a job as Middle East peacemaker? It could happen, judging by the response to her latest Web site/MySpace spinoff, the Sing Mercy Now project, which started when a fan from Israel e-mailed her an MP3 of his Hebrew-sung take on the “Mercy Now” title track.
“I thought it was just beautiful, so I put it up on my site and started talking about it at shows,” says the singer in her husky Southern drawl. “Then I did a private concert at a lawyer’s house in Manhattan, and came face to face with the Palestinian ambassador to the United States. He wasn’t offended, but he was, uhh, curious as to why I wasn’t talking about the Palestinians, as well. And I found myself thinking, ‘Well, gosh — it’d be nice to have an Arabic version of my song to talk about.’”
And that’s now in the works, thanks to Sing Mercy Now, which invites musicians the world over to record the gorgeously Gothic dirge in their own native tongue and send it in.
“The Hebrew version sounded really chilling, and it gave me a whole new perspective on the song,” says Gauthier, who appears in San Francisco Friday, backing “Mercy Now’s” equally ethereal follow-up, the new “Between Daylight and Dark” on Lost Highway.
“I wrote it as a very personal song. But for it to be heard in such a troubled, difficult part of the world, and to think it from that viewpoint? It moved me, it really did.”
So far, several English reworkings have arrived, as well as one in Dutch, with the Arabic turn nearing completion. All leading to, who knows? Perhaps a full-length compilation, the artist says, all made possible by the technology of MySpace. She’s clocking some 600 to 800 spins a day — “a whole lot more people than are hearing me on the radio,” she says.
Gauthier — who regularly tops most critics’ year-end lists — doesn’t cater to the commercial, thanks to her gravelly delivery and Leonard Cohen-ish lyrics and melodies, on “Daylight” cuts such as “Snakebit” and the prison-themed “Thanksgiving.” But what’s next for her — a Camp David summit? While she understands that there are places on earth where religious differences fuel hatred and war, she says, “If music can transcend that and join people together? That’s the spirit of Woody Guthrie, and the true spirit of being an artist.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Contact: (415) 885-0750 or www.musichallsf.com