St. Patrick's Day was last month, but the return of singer Mary Black to Australia is akin to a second coming for those who like things Irish.

She strolls on to the stage 10 minutes late, fresh from gridlock traffic on a busy Friday evening in Melbourne. "Blame the football; your type, not mine" - and she's already got the audience on side.

A concert with Black is rather like a family get-together - there's plenty to talk about and the vibes are strong from both sides. The Irish in the audience, and there are plenty of them, love her already, while outsiders quickly get the message that they're welcome.

It might seem like a difficult thing to achieve, but after just three or four songs you get the impression that this songstress is all things to all people, such is the versatility of her musical repertoire.

Given the change, she'll inject a subtle political message into her songs. Then you'll find the environment top of the agenda. And don't forget the purely romantic.

Her beguiling voice says it all: warm and embracing the lyrics of simple songs or full of resonance in a passionate outcry about something you just know she believes in.

But Black is no desperate campaigner ramming a message down your throat. You take her or leave her. Whichever way, don't be surprised if you suddenly find your foot tapping to the rhythm that flows from the stage.

Much of this tour is dedicated to her most recent album, Speaking with the Angel, which was released in 1999 but is only now getting its first live airing here.

Melbourne-born musician Steve Cooney collaborated with Black on some of the music and his support in this tour is invaluable in helping the singer present some thoroughly soul searching moments in the two-hour show.

Alongside Black's remaining entourage, Cooney injects an almost eccentric flair into the performance - and, not surprisingly, had his home-town fan club cheering him on.

Two Cooney items from the album, the romantic title song with its accordion accompaniment and the livelier A Message of Love, with its formula seemingly ingrained in the 1970s suggests that Black's musical thinking is pretty broad.

And that's the way the audience seemed to like it - although I would have preferred less dominance from the electronic bass and cello, just to give the singer a greater sense of clarity.