Irish folk singer Mary Black has been making beautiful music as a solo artist since the 1980s, but Stories from The Steeples is her first new studio recording in six years.
It was worth the wait, as Black delivers just what her fans have come to expect. Her voice is as beautiful and strong as ever. When a singer does not write original material, it is very important to pick songs which fit the voice, style, and personality of the performer. Black has done a great job here, choosing songs that are insightful and emotionally resonant.
Three of the songs are written by Black’s son, Danny O’Reilly. They are “Faith in Fate,” “Wizard of Oz,” and “The Night is On Our Side,” which also features background vocals, bass, and acoustic guitar by Black’s three children. These are sensitive ballads and show that talent runs in the family.
Black also duets on the CD with popular Irish singers Imelda May (“Mountains to the Sea”) and Finbar Furey. Furey joins her for my favorite song of the set, “Walking With My Love,” a charming ditty about the joys of finding the right one to love that is sure to make you smile. She also duets with the incomparable Janis Ian for another favorite of mine, “Lighthouse Light.”
The songs here are strong on story, especially “Marguerite and the Gambler,” a ghost story of the American Old West, and “The Night Was Dark and Deep,” Paul Kelly’s retelling of a poignant memory that suits Black’s voice perfectly.
“All the Fine Young Men” is a powerful anti-war song with the universal theme of all great anti-war songs, the waste of young lives for transient causes.
“Steady Breathing” is almost too emotionally touching for my taste, although it helps to know (as Black points out in the booklet included with the CD) that it was written by Chris White and Julie Matthews as a comfort for Chris’ sister when she was diagnosed with cancer.
“One True Place” deals with the hope that after we pass from this life, we will find another place to share with those we love. It is another beautiful song. The bonus track is something quite different, written by The Hollies’ Graham Nash, Alan Clarke, and Tony Hicks. It is a cabaret-style love story unlike any you’ve probably heard before.
This CD was a bit overwhelming for me the first time around because of the emotional depth of some of these songs. My favorites are the duets, which happen to be the most upbeat of the numbers. But the more I listen to this recording, the more I absorb it and the more I like it. Black’s music is made for repeated listening. Get it and let it become part of the music of your life.