Saturday, February 04, 2012

Mary Black: Stories from the Steeples

Back in the 1980s when Irish singer Mary Black released her first solo album, she chose contemporary and traditional folk song in English, a hint of country, a bit of Irish tradition, “and it didn’t really tell people what I was about!” Black recalls, laughing. Yet, in a way it did: several decades on, Black's latest recording Stories From the Steeples still holds that mix of contemporary and traditional music, of good stories well told, and that fine voice which marked her first solo album and has been part of all her music over the years.

With a storyteller's instinct and that distinctive voice, Black offers a gathering of songs that explore change, reflection, celebration, love -- and murder. Indeed, there’s a murder ballad here, Marguerite and the Gambler. Black says she was drawn to it at first because the story begins in the same way as the traditional Irish song Anachie Gordon, with a woman drawn to a man her father becomes set against, but, Black points out that “It ends in quite a different way!” It holds a story that will keep you listening, and a melody that will stay with you, as well.

In the first of three collaborations with guests on the album, Black joins up with Imelda May for an intertwining of voices that well suits the vivid images of journeys and returns on Mountains to the Sea. A quieter journey is the subject of The Night Was Dark and Deep, set as a vignette of a moment on a night car trip which paints a picture of a childhood memory. Just as it is with such memories, in the song not everything is explained. Healing, hope, resignation, and facing change all play their parts in varied ways in the songs Faith in Fate and Steady Breathing. Black and Finbar Furey join up for the lovely relaxed celebration of Walking With My Love, while Black adds understated grief and grace to the anti war song All the Fine Young Men.

Black’s children, Danny, Roisin, and Conor O’Reilly, are each involved in various tracks across the album. All three join in on a song which asks powerful questions (and which Danny wrote), The Night Is on Our Side. Lighthouse Light draws together ideas of journeys, change, and the continuance of love in a graceful song that is at once straightforward and complex, and makes a fine piece for Black and Janis Ian to share in the singing.

Songwriters new and time tested, emotions that last, stories well told and music that gets to the heart: those things, have been hallmarks of Mary Black's music across the years, and with Stories From the Steeples she takes the next right steps along that path. Come along for a listen.

you may also wish to see
Music Road: Reflections with Mary Black
Music Road: new song from Mary Black

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posted by Kerry Dexter at

7 Comments:

Anonymous Alexandra said...

Your prose really made me want to discover Mary Black's music.

3:55 PM  
Anonymous Kris @ Attainable Sustainable said...

Oh, I love that album cover!

2:30 AM  
Anonymous merr said...

Yes - what Alexandra said. One gets a true feel for what is in store.

10:30 AM  
Anonymous Living Large said...

I do like Mary Black, but haven't heard her music for quite some time. Thanks for the write up. I'm going to get this latest CD.

7:20 PM  
Anonymous Sheryl said...

This sounds like it would be both hating and beautiful. It's nice that her children are involved, too.

9:49 AM  
Blogger kerry dexter said...

Sheryl,
I ma thinking you meant haunting -- which it is. and it is nice that all three of her children, who are all fine musicians, got to join in.

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Heather said...

I love a well told story in music. There aren't alot of those on the radio these days.

2:45 PM  

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