Concert Review: Revitalized Irish Songstress Shows Range, Commitment

By Daniel Gewertz, Boston Herald

Mary Black, Shane Howard at Berklee Performance Center, Boston, Sunday night.

For her second encore at a packed Berklee Performance Center on Sunday, Irish star Mary Black chose Bob Dylan's song ``Forever Young.''

In some hands, the song is a cloying wedding-reception number. But Black belted the ballad with such staunch commitment, it transcended schmaltz.

The title ``Forever Young'' fit the veteran folk-pop star as well.

Black seemed newly vital, both mature and youthful, and far more affecting than she did in an overly slick Symphony Hall show in November 1998.

For starters, she fronted a quartet, not a sextet, and there was only a single keyboardist, Pat Crowley, who used glitzy electronic effects only rarely. At points the band adapted an overly thick, thumping pop sound. But more often the approach was lean and agile.

Crowley frequently played a deft accordion, and guitarist Bill Shanley was at his expressive best, exhibiting more of County Cork than Las Vegas.

Even in the band workout, Noel Brazil's ``Ellis Island,'' they kept the solos lyrical, strong and shorter than in previous shows.

Black seems to nearly burst with emotion. She still doesn't possess the vulnerability and sad glower of some Irish balladeers, but she makes up for that with her range.

She's the one Irish star who journeys from dark drama (a sensational ``Song for Ireland'') to rambunctious joy (the breezy, jazzy ``Into the Blue,'' the pop confection ``Big Trip To Portland'').

She attained enough gravity to sing ``Schooldays Over,'' the bleak tale of children working the mines. ``Katie,'' meanwhile, was merry.

Black is the Irish balladeer as celebrator of life.

Her ``Columbus'' and ``I Will Be There'' offered passion, full-bodied vocals and clearly delineated sentiment. Even a pure pop ditty like ``Wildest Dreams'' had a lovely flow.

Black was especially moody with the songs of Brazil, her favorite Irish songwriter, who died recently.

She sang songs from her entire 20-year career, including an American winner, ``Once in a Very Blue Moon.''

Black's version of Australian songwriter Shane Howard's ``Flesh & Blood'' was another emotive high.

Howard, one of Black's favorites, opened the show with a brief, personable set of hearty, highly melodic songs.