Review by Dave Tianen
"Shine" is a top contender on several fronts. The first is songwriting. Black is not a writer herself, but she has superb taste in material, which is one of the best and most easily overlooked assets a singer can posess. If there is one thing that listening to music for living has taught me, it's that there is no substitute for good songs. Even the greatest talent is going to be eventually defeated by a steady diet of weak material.
Black has the confidence and maturity not to worry about writing herself and instead relies on proven pros like Richard Thompson ("I Misunderstood"), Tonio K. ("Nobody Lives Without Love") and David Gray ("Trespass Shoes").
Black's basic turf is heart songs, which, of course, is the most heavily trod and often cliched playground a singer can stake out. So what makes her special? For starters, her instruments, a husky Irish voice with an undercurrent of melancholy. Sinead O'Connor has that same quality of marrow-deep sorrow, but in her case it's undercut by an air of childishness and naivete.
Black, in contrast, is very adult, poised and self-contained. If there's an ache in her heart, it's balanced by a hard-won wisdom and untained by illusion. This is a passionate, emotionally seasoned woman, keenly aware and warmly sensual.
Add to that, tastefully spare production by Grammy winner Larry Klein (Joni Mitchell) and you've got the ingredients for a superb adult pop/rock album.
I haven't nearly exhausted my stock of hosannas for Mary Black, but space constraints demand we get on to some of the other discs that brightened the year.