Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ireland's music: two voices

Frances Black and Mary Dillon are both from Ireland. Black grew up in Dublin, while Dillon is from Dungiven in Northern Ireland. Each is a gifted singer, and each has taken a bit of time between albums. As much as the new music each has chosen differs one from the other. each recording offers music which Illuminates aspects of the spirit of Ireland, and reaches beyond the island as well.

Mary Dillon’s album is called North, appropriate enough as the music is in the main sourced from the North of Ireland and the recording was created there as well. Dillon has a gentle and natural phrasing, a voice and style well suited to the songs she has chosen and the stories she tells with her own songwriting.

Most of the songs she’s chosen for North comes from the tradition and tell of love gone wrong -- but have no worries there are cheerful ones as well, and reflective pieces too. A particular standout is The Boatman, filled with vivid and compelling imagery which frames ideas of love, loss, hope and history. It stands well in company with songs from the tradition and from other writers. Among these are the lost lover returns in disguise tale told in The Banks of the Claudy, the anti war meditation in John Condon, and the woman missing her man tale in Bleacher Boy, a song with lines which may sound familiar, even if the song itself does not, as they are turns of phrase which have traveled into the songs in Scotland, Canada, and the American west. Another standout is Ard Ti Chuain, a song of love of a place, which Dillon sings in Irish.

Mary Dillon comes from a musical family -- her sister is the singer and songwriter Cara Dillon. Frances Black is from a family in which music, both traditional and popular, was part of her everyday life growing up too. For her album Stronger Black has chosen ten songs by contemporary writers, thoughtful and poetic in their lyrics and lasting in their melodies, songs which, you could say, are parts of the next steps in storytelling tradition.

These include songs which allow the singer to muse on the many facets of love and resilience, which Black does in a distinctive voice and style that well invite the listener in to consider the stories she tells and the ideas she suggests. Anna McGarrigle, James Taylor, Carole King, Gary Burr, and Paul Brady are several of the writers she’s favored. Rise invites thoughts of that resilience, while I Would Be Stronger Than That asks questions about the not always straightforward paths of love. Long Ago and Far Away, Black notes, was the first song she ever sang in public, when she was around fourteen years of age and was asked to sing at a friend's birthday party, while Heart Like a Wheel was a song she first heard her sister sing when they were kids, and later learned to sing it when a friend asked her to do so. You’ve no need to know a thing about the connections that weave in and out of these songs, or Black's family connections (her sister Mary is one of Ireland’s best loved singers, her brothers Martin, Michael, and Shay have all worked as professional musicians, and all five have at times worked together, as well) to appreciate the beauty of what she offers here. Whehter you know any of thsoe things or not, though, you may hear a bit of resonance with tradition and family, a resonance which only adds to the grace of the music, and to Frances Black’s standing as a gifted interpreter of song.

you may also wish to see
from Northern Ireland: Cara Dillon: After the Morning
Reflections with Mary Black
learning about Irish music: a bouquet of albums

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posted by Kerry Dexter at

6 Comments:

Anonymous Brette said...

I love the idea of these songs as part of the next step of the storytelling tradition

9:33 AM  
Anonymous ruth pennebaker said...

Excellent post. You always give the best recommendations -- and I'll listen to anything you suggest.

11:35 AM  
Anonymous Alexandra said...

It is amazing to me to realize how very many talented musicians Ireland has produced!

3:10 PM  
Blogger Jane Louise Boursaw said...

With the "love gone wrong" songs, I was going to say that Irish music has a lot in common with country western, although I guess that's a common theme in every genre, from Taylor Swift to AC/DC.

11:27 AM  
Anonymous HeatherL said...

Your reviews are so musical themselves.

11:37 AM  
Anonymous Roxanne said...

I'll have to start bookmarking your reviews so that I can bring the right music if / when I get to travel to Ireland.

11:45 AM  

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