Produced by ex-Lucinda Williams collaborator Gurf Morlix, Mary Gauthier's (pronounced "go-shay") third effort, Filth & Fire, is a startlingly honest collection of sketches drawn from the downtrodden lives of marginal Southern characters. The minimal guitar playing found on Gauthier's last albums is here replaced by the beautifully wrought guitar fills that characterized Lucinda's earlier efforts. Gurf's obvious presence, however, isn't the only reason that comparisons toWilliams are being made: Gauthier possesses the unflinching insight and deft songwriting skills missing from the work of so many contemporaries of the Steve Earle/Lucinda singer/songwriter tradition. "Camelot Motel," for example, the album's centerpiece, creates a mosaic of dismal snapshots taken through tightly drawn drapes into the smoke-filled rooms of a dingy motel. "Sugar Cane" is a dark autobiographical account of a child's life in Thibodaux, LA, during the sugar cane burning -- "Dirty air, dirty laundry, dirty money, dirty rain/A dirty dark-eyed daybreak, burnin' the sugar cane" -- delivered in her thick Bayou drawl. The album-closing "The Sun Fades the Color of Everything" is an achingly beautiful love song about two Dylanesque wanderers. Hailed as "the best singer/songwriter album" of 2002 byGeoffrey Himes (No Depression), Filth & Fire is a must-hear for fans of "country noir."