Mary Black, long considered Ireland’s premiere female vocalist, has been recording now for three decades but this is a first. Like early Emmylou Harris, Black is an interpreter, not a writer. Yet, she has a sizeable catalog from which she chose 11 songs to be orchestrated by Ireland’s acclaimed RTE National Symphony Orchestra, with Brian Byrne conducting at the National Concert Hall. The orchestration takes many of these songs in a different direction. Some are well known such as the opening “Urge for Going” from Joni Mitchell and Richard Thompson’s “Dimming of the Day.” Fans of Black will also likely recognize the several she chose from prominent Irish songwriters. We have Jimmy McCarthy’s “No Frontiers” and “Adam at the Window”, two from Noel Brazil in “Summer Sent You” and “The Loving Time”; Steve Cooney’s “Bless the Road,” Paul Doran’s “Poison Words,” and Thom Moore’s “Carolina Rua.” Also included is Australian writer Marcia Howard’s “Poison Tree,” which is based on William Blake’s poem as well as “Turning Away” from Scottish singer-songwriter Dougie MacLean.
Mary Black has made 12 studio albums, all of which reached platinum status in Ireland. She has been a global tourer but now performs mostly just in Ireland where earlier this year she also hosted the popular weekly television series, Ireland’s Favourite Folk Song. Recently she was the subject on documentary on Ireland’s national RTE television network called Mary Black: No Frontiers. The program details her life from her childhood marked by an early love of singing with her talented siblings through the beginnings of her career in Ireland with groups such as General Humbert and De Danann to her international success as a solo artist who has brought Irish music to the world. It also includes behind-the-scenes footage from the recording sessions for this album.
As you listen, her voice is an exemplary pure instrument, and she delivers these songs with unique phrasing. Try “Dimming of the Day” for an example and compare it to the Fairport Convention or Richard and Linda Thompson versions. (Or, Bonnie Raitt’s for that matter). The orchestra is very string dominant, but closer listens reveal those special Irish touches so that when closing your eyes you can practically hear the Uillean pipes and tin whistles we associate with Irish music. You may also envision the misty, craggy landscapes too. It’s a dreamy and often dramatic musical backdrop that contributes to this being a special and comforting project. My guess is that if you put this on before taking your nightly sleep, you will rest well.
- Jim Hynes