Stories From The Steeples by Mary Black
CD Released February 14, 2012 by Blix Street Records
Mary Black has been at the forefront of Irish music for over 25 years. STORIES FROM THE STEEPLES marks the reunion of Mary Black, recognized as Ireland’s premier female vocalist, with Blix Street, whose Gifthorse label established Black in America in 1990. Widely known as a leader in Celtic music, Blix Street is also home to artists such as Eva Cassidy, Dougie MacLean, Cathy Jordan, Grace Griffith and Maia Sharp. “Mary Black is the artist who launched our business, and all these years later, it’s a great pleasure to welcome her home,” states Blix Street President Bill Straw.
STORIES FROM THE STEEPLES, named for the Dublin studio where it was recorded, comes straight from the heart. Eleven songs of life, love, loss, struggle and hope are the perfect rocky terrain for Black. With writers rooted in Ireland, Australia, the UK and America, the diverse and adventurous material offers more than a few delicious surprises.
Black shares vocals on three duets on the new CD: “Lighthouse Light” with Janis Ian, a catchy tune written by Boston-based artist Ry Cavanaugh; “Walking With My Love,” a spirited romp with the incomparable Irish musician Finbar Furey; and “Mountains To The Sea” with Irish chart-topper Imelda May, which is slated to be the album’s first single. It’s enough to say that when Dublin-born May took first place on Ireland’s album charts with her 2009 debut Love Tattoo, she became the first female Irish artist to secure that spotsince fellow Dubliner Black did it nearly 20 years before. This tuneful salute to open spaces was written by Australia’s roots artists Shane Howard and Neil Murray, familiar territory for the triple-platinum May whose influences include rockabilly and blues. Black also includes Murray’s “One True Place,” a song that could easily have been sung by The Carter Family.
Leading off the musical adventure is “Marguerite and the Gambler,” the story-song about a doomed love affair involving a beautiful woman, a dashing rogue and an unhappy father written by Irish contemporary singer-songwriter Ricky Lynch. “The Night Was Dark and Deep,” from acclaimed Australian musician Paul Kelly, showcases Black’s mesmerizing ability to deliver the soul of a song ever fresh with understatement.
The album features three songs from Danny O’Reilly, the lead singer of the Irish pop/rock group The Coronas whose new album just debuted at #1 on the Irish pop chart: “Faith in Fate,” a memorable union of Black’s fluid delivery fitted to Andrew Holdsworth’s well-tempered string arrangement and Ritchie Buckley’s sax; “Wizard of Oz” with a sparse arrangement echoing its emotional landscape; and the energizing, upbeat “The Night Is On Our Side.” Given the affinity of sense and sensibility between singer and writer in these three songs, it is not surprising to learn that Danny is Mary’s son, one of the next generation of the Black family musical tradition. Mary’s two other children, Roisín and Conor, also appear on “The Night Is On Our Side.”
Rounding out the set are the Julie Matthews-Chris While composition “Steady Breathing,” and the Eric Bogle-John Munro anti-war offering “All The Fine Young Men.” Those familiar with these selections will appreciate Black’s sensitive interpretations on these two outstanding tracks. The album comes with a booklet that features her notes on the songs and credits a long list of musicians and producers with putting this project so seamlessly together. In addition to Black, co-producers on various tracks include Billy Robinson, Bill Shanley and Pat Crowley. Shanley’s guitar work and Crowley’s keyboards (and sometimes accordion) are featured throughout the album, along with Nick Scott on double bass and Matt McGranahan on fiddle. Many other musicians and backup singers contributed as well, among them Finbar Furey on banjo.
Long awaited, STORIES FROM THE STEEPLES is the latest chapter in Mary Black’s story. Or, as Ireland’s Hot Press put it in a recent issue: “Mary Black instinctively makes a song her own, and her voice here is more expressively fragile than before. The musicianship is impeccable, especially Bill Shanley’s guitar and Pat Crowley’s keyboards, making Stories From The Steeples a very worthy addition to an already impressive catalogue.”
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