Mary Black makes for a contemporary kind of traditional singer

October 22, 1993|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

It shouldn't come as any surprise that there's an element of the Irish traditional sound in Mary Black's music. "Obviously, if you live in Ireland, you are influenced by traditional Irish music," she says over the phone from her home in Dublin. "Beca Black, of course, has done more than merely listen to those old songs. She started her career on the Dublin folk circuit, and first came to prominence as a member of the Irish traditionalist band De Dannan, with whom she recorded several albums in the mid-'80s.

But there's a difference between singing traditional songs, and being a traditional singer, and Black is well aware of where she stands.

"It's not really in your blood if you don't come from more of a rural background," she says. "There are a lot of traditional singers around who would say, 'No, she can't sing a traditional song,' because I wasn't coming from a really traditional background."

Nor was she especially interested in following tradition to that degree. "Things would be sung in a certain way," she says. "They wouldn't put their own interpretation onto a song. They would be more interested in continuing the tradition, singing it the way it has been sung and the way it's been handed down."

Whereas Black prefers the freedom to follow her own muse. "I wasn't feeling satisfied," she says of her days singing traditional music. "I was frustrated, because I wanted to be able to explore other areas of music."

Consequently, even though the title tune from her current album, "The Holy Ground," is a traditional number, the album also includes songs by Sandy Denny, Jesse Winchester and contemporary Irish songwriters. And that eclectic approach has certainly worked well for her in Ireland. Her 1989 album "By the Time It Gets Dark" and 1991's "No Frontiers" were both multi-platinum successes, and when "The Holy Ground" was released in June, it shot to the top of the Irish charts.

Naturally, success at home has made Black eager to broaden her audience. And given the number of Irish acts that are making a big noise internationally -- U2, Enya, Sinead O'Connor, Clannad, the Cranberries -- she feels the time couldn't be better to make her move.

"Suddenly people are looking toward Ireland," she says. "Record companies are all the time coming over, having a look around to see any new acts. There is an interest, because at the moment, it's particularly healthy. It's a good time to be from Ireland."

But as much as she wants to make a name for herself outside of Ireland, Black isn't interested in changing her sound or approach. "I would never compromise my own music in order to become more famous," she says. "I think if people start to do that, then they're losing something that must have been very precious to them at the beginning.

"Because what drives me more than anything is the love of what I do. I am ambitious, but not to the extent where I would accept a record company coming along and telling me what music to sing."

Mary Black

When: Tuesday at 8 p.m.

Where: Kraushaar Auditorium, Goucher College

Tickets: $20

TTC Call: (410) 337-6333 for information; (410) 481-7328 for tickets

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