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Mary Black has come a long way since her days as the dazzling but under-used vocalist with traditional Irish band De Danann. She left that band in 1986 to pursue a solo careeer, and has since become one of Ireland's most successful female vocalists - perhaps best known here for her work on the marvellous Irish compilation albums A Woman's Heart and A Woman's Heart 2.
This latest release pulls together songs by some of the top pop/folk songwriters around. These include Richard Thompson, David Gray and Irish folkie-turned-rocker Paul Brady, who also sings on his track I Will Be There (recorded via an ISDN line from Melbourne). The bulk of the music was recorded in Hollywood using a mixture of Irish and American musicians, all strong performers. The result is far from disappointing, with tight musicianship highlighting thoughtful arrangements.
There's a harder edge to Mary Black's vocals throughout Shine, perhaps reflecting the brooding feel to a number of the chosen songs. But perhaps it also shows her determination not to be boxed into any category, whether that be traditional Irish or American country. The mixture of instruments - fiddle, whistle and accordion; pedal steel guitar, bass and mandolin - gives a nod in each musical direction, but the overall result doesn't fall into either genre.
This gives the album a broad appeal, with plenty of light and shade, and lots of musical interest. Though there are many good songs, the life-affirming Beautiful is one standout track, with superb McGarrigles-like backing singing. Shine shows Mary Black to be right on song.