Full Tide is Mary's first full studio album since 1999's Speaking With The Angel. This uncharacteristically long break from the recording studio had long-term fans of Mary worrying that she had nothing left to say and was perhaps losing interest in making music. Full Tide is a strong statement to counter any such fears, and is a timely reminder that Mary is still one of the finest voices to come out of Ireland.

The late Noel Brazil has written many of the most popular and enduring songs from Mary's back catalogue, and it is a fitting tribute that Mary has chosen to include four of his songs on this album. The enchanting combination of Mary's voice and Noel Brazil's songs has always been a fruitful partnership and this success remains evident on Full Tide. Two Brazil tracks act as bookends to the album, which opens with a lively "The Land Of Love" and closes with the stirring "Japanese Deluxe." The title of the album is derived from another Noel Brazil composition, "The Real You."

For the first time in her career, Mary has included two tracks on which she shares co-writing credits with her son Danny O'Reilly, who is proving to be a burgeoning young songwriting talent himself. I'll admit to being wary of this new departure, not least because Mary has always insisted she is an interpreter of other's songs and has previously claimed to have little interest in crafting her own material. However, these two tracks -- the emotion-wrought "Your Love" and the up-tempo "Stand Up" -- provide the strongest tracks on the album. It remains to see whether this marks the start of a new chapter in Mary's career, but the quality of these tracks suggest that this new direction could be extremely rewarding.

Full Tide also includes the sumptuous Sandy Denny cover "Full Moon." Mary makes no secret of the fact that Sandy has been a big influence on her own career, but is never lazy in her choice of Sandy's songs. "Full Moon" was recorded during the sessions for Sandy's final solo album, Rendezvous, but never made it to the final album, surfacing some years later on various anthologies and more recently as a bonus track on the 2005 reissue of the original 1978 release.

Bob Dylan also receives cover treatment from Mary on the majestic "Lay Down Your Weary Tune" -- from Dylan's 1985 release, Biograph, which Mary and the band start with a stunning a cappella chorus. The second Dylan cover is "To Make You Feel My Love," to which Mary applies her trademark tenderness and clarity.

For folk aficionados there is the traditional track "Siul A Run," which Mary sings in both English and her native Gaelic. Mary's voice sounds like it has come home on tracks like this, and I long for the day when Mary might record an entire album of traditional folk songs. I imagine I am not alone in this desire!

The uplifting "St. Kilda Again" is likely to prove a crowd pleaser at Mary's live performances and contains some delicious harmony vocals from Mary's daughter, Róisín.

Full Tide contains all the ingredients that have contributed to many great Mary Black recordings in the past: outstanding choice of material, sympathetic arrangements and Mary's effortless vocal style. It may be a cliché, but Full Tide marks a tremendous return to form for this much-loved and critically acclaimed artist.

Reprinted with permission from The Green Man Review.
Copyright (2006) Green Man Review.