Mary Black

Speaking with the Angel

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Ironically, traditional folk vocalist Mary Black's first American release (Shine) buried her traditional Irish roots in glossy pop production, obscuring the very quality that interested the labels in the first place. Speaking with the Angel corrects the errors of its predecessor by bringing Black back to her folky origins. The result is not only more marketable, it's also more genuine, more innovative and more listenable. Though production duties are split between Donal Lunny, a ubiquitous presence in Celtic circles, Steve Cooney and Black herself, the sound of the record is remarkably consistent and cohesive. The electronic keyboards that have played a leading role in many of Black's recent efforts are reduced here to tasteful cameos, replaced by the mellow warmth of acoustic guitar, bouzouki, accordion, piano, fiddle, harp and flute. Some of Black's other regrettable tendencies -- oversinging, sentimentality -are present, though in palatable doses. And there are two excruciatingly perky pop songs ("Message of Love," "Big Trip to Portland") that shouldn't have made the final cut. But for the most part, Black is very successful at finding the heart of the songs she's chosen and expressing them with honesty and reserve. Which is especially gratifying since she's chosen some excellent songs. Among the artists covered in this collection are Dougie McLean, John Gorka, Ron Sexsmith, and Neil Finn. She does justice to all of them and even improves on Sting's "Fields of Gold" with a soft, lilting version that features a graceful harmonica solo by Brendan Power.

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