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The Whole Affair
Comprehensive overview of defiant Irish talent
Jackie Hayden, 05 Jun 2012
This double-CD contains a generous 35 tracks, nearly half of which were recorded live. As such it offers a comprehensive overview of the quarter-century career of one of Ireland’s outstanding modern talents. Coughlan has a unique ability to take great songs originally made famous her musical heroes, from Billie Holiday to Van Morrison, and to turn them into something entirely her own, as she sweeps across a wide range of musical genres, from raunchy barrelhouse blues to sly, seductive German cabaret-influenced rock.
Mary’s strength is not just in her powerful voice. Her choice of material is unmistakably personal too, reflecting not only the intertwining vicissitudes of carnal desire and misfiring relationships, as with ‘Double Cross’, but also covering the social issues that are important to understanding modern Ireland. This is nowhere more graphic than in her searing interpretation of ‘Magdalen Laundry’. Coughlan can smoulder playfully too, as in ‘The Ice Cream Man’ and ‘The House Of Ill Repute’, and then ease back and deliver a straight pop song like ‘Invisible To You’ with a casual panache.
On the live front, she is peerless in her reading of well known material, taking songs like ‘God Bless The Child’, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ and ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and investing them afresh with a convincing emotion few other singers could conjure. As her recent contributions to the Woman’s Heart live shows and her ongoing solo adventures confirm, Coughlan is still well on top of her game. Whatever her next move, this release is a timely opportunity to celebrate the story so far.