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MARY BLACK Stories From The Steeples

MARY BLACK Stories From The Steeples
Blix Street TUCD024

The six year wait for a studio album is over. Not the most prolific of artistes (not counting compilations, I reckon 12 albums in 29 years) this is, however well worth the wait. Esteemed guests such as Janis Ian and Finbar Furey compliment her on a mostly well balanced selection of contemporary or near-contemporary compositions (an obscure sixties Hollies song - Fifi The Flea – is included as a bonus [dunno why, it adds nowt to the album and isn’t a patch on the original]).

Mary delivers a masterful version of Bogle’s All The Fine Young Men, and tastefully enchants with While/Matthews Steady Breathing. Three songs by rising talent Danny O’Reilly prove to be perfect for MB’s now well matured voice, and the usual suspects give an all round satisfactory performance, particularly Bill Shanley on guitars, mandolin and uke  – but there’s more than a hint of ‘playing safe’ – predictable content, typical arrangements, formulaic delivery, though despite (or because) of the ‘givens’ this IS a stellar performance and I’d love to see the touring outfit if it resembles the album ensemble (guests excepted).

The various studios used and differing production credits suggest that this album had a longish gestation period (evidenced also by the gap since the last one). The top heavy production at times detracts, for me, from Mary Black’s core strengths as a folk singer at times. Funnily enough, I am reminded that one of the few places you can obtain the Fifi The Flea original is on an imported record which the Hollies ambitiously entitled Folk Style. In a strange way it was indeed harking back to that idiom (and this CD mostly ain’t).

Grem Devlin

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This album was reviewed in Issue 91 of The Living Tradition magazine.