"The world doesn't need any more pretty good songs," says Mary Gauthier. And at a time when too many singer-songwriters scribble greeting-card copy and pep-rally cheers, Gauthier meets her mission statement with incisive and literate slices of real life. Her burnished voice bears the mark of her personal history; given up for adoption at birth, the Louisiana native rose from a hard-luck youth through detox and jail to college studies in philosophy and running a popular Cajun restaurant in Boston. In her late 30s, she gave it up to perform songs in which every word counts--if not cuts to the chase--and the melodies captivate the ear. Her world is one where "Marie Laveau promenades with Oscar Wilde, [and] Big Funky Stella twirls her little red umbrella to the beat." And after taking listeners through an emotional wasteland as vivid as T.S. Eliot's, Gauthier offers salve like the title song to her most recent album, Mercy Now.