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One trends to be suspicious of music with too immediate an appeal. Instant attraction often leads to boredom. With Mary Black's music, however, the opposite applies.
Joe Jackson, 10 Aug 1989
One trends to be suspicious of music with too immediate an appeal. Instant attraction often leads to boredom. With Mary Black's music, however, the opposite applies. Repeated listenings, instead of lessening the appeal of her previous release 'By The Time It Gets Dark', have shown it to be one of the finest albums ever produced in Ireland.
Of course, the problem with so perfect and successful an album is that it is a difficult act to follow. The easy route for Mary Black and her magnificent production team to take would have been to do …'Dark' mark two. But in a brave move, on No Frontiers they have chose to by-pass the likes of Sandy Denny, Ewan McColl and Richard Thompson and concentrate instead on what proved to be the heart of 'By The Time It Gets Dark': songs almost exclusively by Irish composers such as Jimmy McCarthy and Noel Brazil. (The only exception here is her reading of Bacharach/David's 'I Say A Little Prayer' which sits uncomfortably on the album for that very reason). Musically too, the new album marks a move further away from the folk-base of many of her previous recordings – here the moods are multi-coloured rather than merely explorations of blue.
Fortunately it is a gamble which, overall, pays rich dividends. The production, by Declan Sinnott, is so sensitive to the dynamics in Black's voice and songs that at times – as on Donal Long's 'The Shadow' – the union is other-worldly. The musicians too all play as though every word being sung by Mary Black is coming from their collective consciousness. Sinnott's guitar lines and harmonies, not surprisingly, are flawless, as are all musical lines played by Garvin Gallagher on double bass/harmonies and Carl Geraghty on sax. And as with their work on 'By The Time It Gets Dark' the syllable-sensitive rhythmic licks provided by Noel Bridgeman and minimalist piano runs by Pat Crowley form an object lesson in how to provide perfect accompaniment for singer and song.
Yet although Mary Black's voice throughout is an echo of the essence of the soul, it must be said that the note she sings most sweetly and the note which rings most true is that which is imbued with a certain trembling, Celtic melancholy. For whatever reasons, vocal or psychological, songs that are devoid of a sense of longing lack the poetry present in her songs of sadness. And so the uptempo songs on this collection such as 'Past The Point Of Rescue' ad 'Carolina Rua', though pretty and catchy, will hardly be remembered as definitive recordings by Mary Black.
As one of Ireland's most intelligent interpreters of a complex lyric she seems more at home with texts which could be read as poetry proper, as with Jimmy McCarthy's trio of songs, 'No Frontiers', 'Another Day' and the exquisite 'Shuffle Of The Buckled'. The same is true of the three compositions by Noel Brazil, 'Vanities', 'Columbus' and 'Fat Valley Of Pain'. In the latter, another of the album's many highlights, Brazil has written: "It was one of those days/when to shine was of no value/one of those days/When the language had no grace/We were miles apart/And I stood there with my heads spinning/Just another poor soul/Trying hard not to lose faith". The language here, both literal and musical, teems with grace, an element sadly lacking in too much contemporary music.
As befits its title, this is an adventurous album unbounded by constraints of fashion. No frontiers, indeed.