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
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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