Mary Black

Looking Back [Curb]

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Looking Back was the first release from Mary Black's U.S. label, Curb Records. It was intended to introduce one of Ireland's top-selling pop stars to American audiences. Much of the record does what its title suggests, featuring some of the best songs from four of Black's Gifthorse releases: Without the Fanfare (1985), No Frontiers (1989), Babes in the Wood (1991), and Holy Ground (1993). The tracks from those albums are well chosen. Most of them are carefully arranged with mellow resonance. The slow jazz ballad "Columbus" and the more traditional Jimmy McCarthy favorite, "Bright Blue Rose," are interpreted especially effectively. But Looking Back also contains three previously unreleased tracks aimed directly at American tastes, and it is here that the consistency of the record begins to suffer. Among the new songs, "Only a Woman's Heart" is the sole success. It is a cover of a song by Eleanor McEvoy, another Irishwoman who found an audience across the Atlantic, re-imagined as a beautiful folk duet with one of America's most distinctive female vocalists, Emmylou Harris. The other two new tracks (Shane Howard's "Soul Sister" and John Gorka's "Looking Forward") are buried in overly perky keyboard and saxophone arrangements that lack the subtlety of most of the older recordings. In retrospect, those songs seem to foreshadow the ill-advised gloss pop sound of Shine, Black's 1997 L.A. studio debut. Looking Back is generally best when it does just that.

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