A new album from Mary Black always creates a buzz of excitement, especially these days as they’ve become something of a rarity.
Stories from the Steeples is her first album for six years, but it’s been worth the wait.
This is a triumphant return for an artist who, after already notching up 11 platinum albums, is entitled to wait until the time is right.
She told Irish Music Forever: “I’ve actually got more time now. My kids have grown up. I can pick and choose the work I really want to do.
“I feel if I’m going to make an album I need to be inspired to do it, hungry do it. I need to feel really enthusiastic and I waited until that happened. I didn’t want to do it just because it was time.”
So why now? “Well in a way it’s sometimes the songs. They bring you back in and you think –I’d really like to sing that song. “
It’s easy to see why the songs on Stories from the Steeples were able to entice Black back into the studio. They’re a strong collection covering a wide range of styles and topics, but always with intriguing lyrics with a story or an emotion to explore.
The opening track Marguerite and the Gambler with its Dylanesque title is an intriguing melodrama. It’s followed by the beautifully subtle and sensitive The Night was Dark and Deep, which features a child overhearing his parents arguing.
Walking with my Love is a jaunty duet with Finbar Furey; mellow and relaxing…you can drift away with this one… gentle and warm as a summer breeze.
Three of the songs that inspired Black to return to the studio were written by her son Danny O’Reilly, a member of the Irish pop band, The Coronas. One of them, Faith in Fate, is a moving ballad about the breakup of a relationship and the hope for reconciliation.
Black first heard it while her son was writing it at their home in Dublin, and asked him if she could record it. “I was just very moved by it. I felt it would be a challenge for me too because it has quite a range and that’s one of the things he said to me: ‘Sure mam you can do it. If you can do it, you’re welcome to it.’
“So that was like a red rag to a bull, I thought: I can do it, I know I can do it. So it was a challenge. Sometimes a challenge is great. It was different for me.”
Other stand out tracks on the album include, All the Fine Young Men written by Bogle / Munro. It’s a poignant story of the promise made to young men in Flanders Field in the First World War. There are also two other fine duets: Mountains to the Sea with Dublin singer Imelda May, and Lighthouse Light with Janis Ian.
Mary Black has clearly lost none of her power and charm during her six year absence from the recording studio. Her voice is still clear and pure, and she still has that knack of unearthing wonderful songs by new writers.
Stories from the Steeples is a great album by one of Ireland’s top performers.