Female voices (pt.3) – Mary Black
“If life is a river and your heart is a boat
And just like a water baby, baby born to float
And if life is a wild wind that blows way on high
Then your heart is Amelia dying to fly
Heaven knows no frontiers
And I’ve seen heaven in your eyes“
One morning is London, I was visiting an audiophile’s basement (my father is an healthy addict to good sound) and I heard Mary Black for the very first time.
That same afternoon, I had bought “No Frontiers”. A few years later, I travelled to Cork to watch her perform. Her music was definitely worth it.
From her website:
Mary Black’s distinguished career has spanned over 25 years from her early days in Dublin folk clubs through ever-escalating success with seven platinum solo albums one of which – No Frontiers – spent fifty- six weeks in the Irish Top 30. Needless to say Mary Black is a seminal figure in Irish musical history and one of the artists responsible for it’s blossoming on a global level.
Mary released her first eponymous solo album in 1983. It reached No. 4 in the Irish Charts and is ranked among the best Irish albums of the early 1980’s. It won for her the Irish Independent Arts Award for Music, the first in a staggering list of Music Awards that have continued to the present day.
After a successful period working with traditional band “De Dannan”, she reunited with producer/guitarist Declan Sinnott to record her second solo album ” Without the Fanfare” in 1985. This established what has become a Mary Black trademark – her ability to discover some of Ireland’s finest contemporary song-writing talent and through her remarkable voice project the songs onto a world stage. The San Francisco Chronicle later called her “One of the best interpretative singers around”.
“By The Time It Get’s Dark” in 1987 saw Mary extending her repertoire, adding songs by the likes of Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny to the wealth of Irish song writing talent. Yet to all of the material Mary Black brought her own unique Irish combination of the ethereal and the earthy. The Telegraph described her voice as “Serene and achingly beautiful”.
“No Frontiers” followed and proved to be one of Ireland’s best selling albums of 1989. It also established Mary in new markets in Europe the US and Japan. “Babes in the Wood” in 1991 went straight to No.1 in the Irish charts and led to two sell-out shows at the Royal Albert Hall. Touring the UK for the first time Mary received superlative reviews from The Guardian, The Times and The Telegraph.
“The Holy Ground” in 1993 went platinum on the day of its release. Subsequently Mary played 5 sell-out shows at the Point Theatre in Dublin to an audience of 20,000 in one week. “Circus” in 1995 went straight to No.16 in the British charts, becoming her biggest selling UK album to date.
Perhaps more gratifying than the habitual awards and recognition bestowed on her is the respect and admiration of fellow artists. Mary has recorded and performed live with Emmy Lou Harris, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Joan Baez and Van Morrison.
Her ’97 release, “Shine”, saw Mary taking something of a new direction. She asked renowned American producer Larry Klien to produce the album. Recorded in Los Angeles in late 1996, many have judged it one of her finest works.
“Speaking with the Angel” followed in 1999. On this she continued to bring some of Ireland’s best songwriters into the spotlight, once again interpreting the songs of her personal favorites such as Shane Howard, Noel Brazil and Steve Cooney. Summing up its review of this album Ireland’s leading music magazine, Hot Press, said: “If it is a benchmark in excellence that you seek, a life-affirming statement, then this is the album for you . Staggering stuff”.
“Still Believing” is a documentary filmed in 2002 celebrating Mary’s life in music. In this film Mary tells her story and takes us from her birthplace in Dublin’s inner city on a musical journey through her career. The documentary is followed by a live recording of Mary and the Band filmed on the final night of a week long run at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin – one of Mary’s favourite venues. Both the documentary and the live recording at the Olympia make up “Mary Black Live, the DVD” which is accompanied by a live audio CD recorded at various venues around the world.
In Feb 2005 Mary and her band started work in West Kerry recording new material – songs from, Noel Brazil, Sandy Denny, Bob Dylan, Shane Howard and Mary herself. The fruits of their labour, a brand new album entitled “Full Tide”, was released in Ireland on October 28th. It was Mary’s first studio album in 6 years.