Mary Black

By the Time It Gets Dark

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You'll find Mary Black albums in the "Irish" section of most record stores, but that's more because of her musical pedigree than because of anything she's recorded since 1990. The former vocalist for Irish folk group De Dannan, she has since gone on to great success in her native land as a solo artist specializing in gentle pop music with folk inflections. Lighter than June Tabor but heavier than Enya, Black has staked out a territory of her own somewhere between the slick excesses of Clannad and the nuevo-retro American singer/songwriter resurgence. Her voice is simply one of the loveliest in the world -- imagine Linda Thompson at her achingly bell-toned, crystalline best, and that's Mary Black at her average. Her best can leave you in tears. By the Time It Gets Dark is typical, which is to say that it's predominantly wonderful and also includes one or two glaring errors of musical judgment. With the help of guitarist and producer Declan Sinnott, she delivers a number of gorgeous ballads recorded with a bare minimum of accompaniment; this approach has always proved most effective for her, and when brought to bear on such sterling material as Richard Thompson's "Farewell, Farewell" or the traditional Scottish gem "Leaboy's Lassie," the effect is quietly devastating. "Once in a Very Blue Moon" and "Sparks Might Fly" are downright maudlin (she has an unfortunate weakness for Broadway-style schlock sometimes), and it's anyone's call as to the necessity of another version of "Moon River." But so much of this material is transcendentally lovely that the whole disc can confidently be recommended.

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