Mary Black
Without the Fanfare
By the Time it Gets Dark
No Frontiers Good sound starts here. Famous demo disc and good songs. But sound not as god as those below it.
Babes in the Wood Sentimental Favourite.
Holy Ground A step sideways with different songwriters. I don't really like the songs here.

Perhaps the best sounding Mary Black CD. Air, space, black silences. A bit 'faster' than the earlier albums.


Shine An album crafted for the US market. Fine sounding but a bit on the harsh side.
Wonder Child
(Japanese press)
A great collector's piece featuring duets wih Joan Baez and Emmylous Harris (singing the 'A Woman's Heart')


Generally, I prefer listening to singer-songwriters; perhaps I feel that someone singing her own songs is able to communicate more clearly her intentions behind the song. Also, such songs are usually special. I can't imagine anyone trying to do successfully a cover of Suzanne Vega's songs for example. However, one exception that I'm happy to make would be for Mary Black. She is a wonderful singer and her albums are always filled with gems from talented songwriters such as Noel Brazil ('Columbus'). With a wonderful career spanning about 2 decades, she started off with a sweet angelic soprano which is now a bit lower, more mature, and far more expressive.

The sound is quintessentially Irish/Celtic, and makes for interesting comparisons to the folksy country movement popularised (popularised to audiophiles maybe :)) by Nanci Griffith across the Atlantic. But it isn't old-fashioned music; rather, it is Irish music struggling to come to terms with the emerging pop culture. The great thing, of course, is that she has succeeded in producing a sound that is sounds both Irish and 'modern'. She appeals to audiophiles because of the primarily acoustic nature of her albums.

The story of how No Frontiers became an audiophile reference bears retelling: The designer of Mission Speakers heard No Frontiers, particularly 'Columbus' and fell in love with it, using it as one of the test tracks for Mission Speakers. Mission then produced a compilation CD for dealers which included Columbus. After this, the word spread. Now, Mary Black is one of the staples of the audiophile community (especially her LPs which are said to sound far better than the CD). The thing is, I don't even think the No Frontiers is that  great  in terms of sound quality.

Before No Frontiers, Mary also recorded several other albums which are nice, but the good sound CD wise starts at about No Frontiers. If only someone would bother to remaster those crappy AAD transfers for her earlier CDs.

It has got to be Circus, which is perhaps more modern-sounding than the other albums, but also features superb sound quality. Listen to 'Donnegall Breeze' (vocals+piano+minimal accompaniment) and  see  the 'air' and 'space' of the soundstage :).


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