A lot has been written and a lot has been said, whispered, recounted, alleged, supposed and presumed. It’s all quite forgotten now and the songs remain the same, they remain a testament to Mary Coughlan’s seemingly timeless and endless talent. Her smoky, bluesy, boozy drawl has always been a seduction, no matter what the subject. The vocal marrying of sardonic wit, visceral rage, orgiastic between the sheets passion, the tenderest of sorrowful regrets; this is Mary’s talent. Regardless of the elements she chooses to manipulate with flawless ease, Mary’s voice has always been an unforeseen, sudden seduction. This is why she is so loved.
Throughout over 25 years of her quite extraordinary recording career Mary has drawn heavily from her legendary heroes; Billie Holiday’s grievous, teary outpourings, the husky flirtations of Peggy Lee, Van Morrison’s soulful wails, the defiant chanteusery of Edith Piaf. All are present and correct in her delivery. Even so, Mary, with her naked honesty makes every song her own; they belong to her and nobody else. Who else could possibly present “The Double Cross” or “Magdalen Laundry” or “The Ice Cream Man” with such dedication and effortless zeal?
The casual listener may know something of “Ancient Rain”, “Invisible to You” or maybe “Man Of The World”. These may well be among the greatest of Mary’s many great hits, however there is so much more to the story. How about an entire double album dedicated to her love of Billie Holiday. Billie died at 44, the age at which Mary performed songs from the album to sold-out venues and enraptured audiences at her “Lady Sings the Blues” shows staged in Dublin and London in 2001. How about “Live In Galway”, Mary’s triumphant, if anxious, return from the brink to the stage in 1995. At the time she pleaded the venue to host the gig, having to repent for previously letting them down a little too frequently. She had become the “no-show”. Mary sold out 8 gigs in a row. How about “Live At The Basement”. Recorded in Sydney among an intimate audience in 2003, this is the ultimate in down and dirty jazz club renditions. It’s hard to imagine a more succinct demonstration of both the raw and refined nature of Mary’s talents.