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Mary Coughlan


Country of origin:

Ireland

Type of music generally:

Torchy jazz/pop/folk

Status:

Most recent release, Scars on the Calendar (with Erik Visser, 2015); most recent release of new, solo material, The House Of Ill Repute (2008)

See also:

Mary Coughlan's site

Wikipedia's entry for Mary Coughlan

Comparisons:

Billie Holiday, June Tabor, Holly Cole, Carmel, Eddi Reader, Marianne Faithfull

Covers/own material:

Own, co-written, and many covers

General comments:

She's got an amazing voice (an Irish bluesy, what'd Charley say once? fuck-it-all-pour-me-another-drink voice) and a wicked sense of humor. She chooses eclectic, interesting songs to cover, and even if not every single one is my cup of tea, I could listen to her sing the phone book (even at an outdoor, daytime concert) and I'd be transported to a dark smoky bar. Mary's atmosphere, with a lot of working class class.
      Dark, smoky, wry Irish vocals. Mary Coughlin is from Ireland, but she doesn't sing "Irish" music. She's more akin to Billie Holiday and June Tabor. She can take any song written and sing it with her Irish voice and wry style and make the song completely her own. She sings everyone from Cole Porter to Elvis Costello and never ever sings a bad song.
     She's an incredible singer with a to-die-for voice, smoky and bluesy with an Irish accent, she has a way of taking any song and making it a "Mary Coughlan" song, no matter what the genre. When she sings "Mother's Little Helper" (she has children) you forget that it's a Rolling Stones song that you've heard on the radio a million times and you realize that it's about a housewife who's going crazy and who takes pills to help her cope.
      She has a wry, sardonic sense of style and humor and a "fuck it" attitude. (instead of "don't worry, be happy" with her it's "fuck it, why worry?")
     My favorite of her albums is Under the Influence, then Tired and Emotional (vickie@wwa.com)

Mary Coughlan could find the soul of any song; she could uncover emotional truths that the song's composer didn't even know were there.
      I think I described her voice as bluesy and blowsy, and her philosophy of life as "Fuck it, have another drink."
     If you get a chance, next time you need to dig out a good cry that you can't quite get to, turn off the lights, pour a big mug of red wine or a tumbler of warm whiskey, and let Mary show you what your soul is for. (lissener@wwa.com)

If you're looking for something a bit more obscure in torch singers, I would recommend the English (or Irish) singer Mary Coughlan. She has a very smokey voice, and her music always reminds me of something that might have been heard in a very seedy bar many decades ago (although she's contemporary and youngish). Both of her CDs are good, but I would probably recommend her first one Tired and Emotional as having the most torch material on it. (valrichardson@igc.org)

I listened to one of her CDs once, and although it's not my favorite style of music, I thought she had an extraordinary voice. Hard to describe—very subtle and expressive, with a *lot* of great technique and control. But her singing still has plenty of originality and individual quirks.
     The songs themselves didn't grab me that much. The lyrics are very good—dark and insightful. But the melodies and arrangements struck me as "female vocalist" music. I don't mean like Mariah Carey, more like the kind of vocalists my parents listened to—Judy Garland, Lana Cantrell, etc. A lot of attention is paid to phrasing and expression, and the delivery is very classy. But the style of the songs aren't really my taste. (jwermont@sonic.net)

Comments about live performance:

What a wonderful show it was! Please go to this show, if you're in the general area of one of them. Mary's voice is in top form, it wraps itself around you and won't let go. I was so excited to be at this show because I've been such a big fan for so many years, and I wasn't disappointed at all. She also tells great stories about some of the songs. (9/93, vickie@wwa.com)

Don't miss her. There was a time when I'd've considered going to Ireland to see her live—she's definitely one of my deities. (1998, lissener@wwa.com)

Well, it's certainly never exactly been my favorite genre, either, but jeez, that lady can sing!
     I had bought tickets on a whim, not knowing much anything about her, just because her show was a part of the Finnish-Irish Society's festival. Her music was less traditionally Irish than I had assumed, and much more bluesy, but that didn't turn out to be a bad thing at all: in fact, the performance opened up my ears for new music, which was perhaps the most wonderful thing about it. I had never before had much appreciation for blues, but I had never really heard a decent, live blues performance, and certainly nothing like Mary Coughlan's.
     Her singing was, of course, what was important. Most of the time, I could have easily lived without the band (piano, guitar, sax), although the guys surely could play their instruments (didn't hesitate to show that, either). Very typical (as far as I know), skilled blues instrumentation, but it generally just works to irritate me with its elevator music-like blandness. Still, this time the general atmosphere was such that I could even endure most of the sax solos without flinching, which is quite an unprecedented accomplishment for me. And there were exceptions, too, like the flashy guitar parts that really got to me during that song about Magdalene laundries (one of the highlights of the show, that song).
     Oh my, what a voice... The way she breathes out those end-of-word t's and d's makes me wish she'd do a song with all the words ending in those two letters. Well, maybe some of those nearly as delightful k's could be thrown in to allow for the occasional "fuck it". (10/98, jsorva@niksula.hut.fi)

I had the pleasure of seeing Mary Coughlan at the Guinness Mudfest in New York this weekend, despite technical difficulties, I was very impressed. I went in cold, being totally unfamiliar with her work.
     Her voice gives the impression she's a world-weary wanderer at the end of a rough road. Kind of torchy, kind of blue, kind of nice. Listening to her made you think of a smoky dim lit nightclub in the seedy side of town. Brecht and Weill tunes would fit her nicely. (jjh969@juno.com)

Recommended first album:

Under the Influence or Tired and Emotional

Recordings:

  • Tired and Emotional (1985)
  • Under the Influence (1987)
  • Uncertain Pleasures (1990)
  • Sentimental Killer (1992)
  • Love for Sale (live, 1993)
  • Love Me or Leave Me: The Best of Mary Coughlan (compilations, 1994)
  • Live in Galway (live, 1995)
  • After the Fall (1997)
  • Long Honeymoon (1999)
  • Mary Coughlan Sings Billie Holiday (2000)
  • Red Blues (2002)
  • Live At The Basement (live, 2003)
  • The Best (compilation, 2004)
  • The House Of Ill Repute (2008)
  • The Whole Affair—The Very Best of (compilation, 2012)
  • Scars on the Calendar (with Erik Visser, 2015)

Tired and Emotional

Release info:

1987—WEA (U.K.)/Green Linnet (America)—Green Linnet CDMR 001)

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Must have for general mental health.

Group members:

Mary Coughlin—vocals

Comments:

The songs are great, and Mary's voice is delicious! (vickie@wwa.com)

Excellent. (valrichardson@igc.org)


Under the Influence

Release info:

1987—WEA Records Ltd. (Ireland, UK & Europe)—242 185-2

Availability:

Wide in Europe

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Mary Coughlin—vocals

Guest artists:

Richie Buckley, Conor Barry, Trevor Knight, Robbie Brennal, Jerome Rimson

Comments:

I love this album as much as, sometimes more than Tired and Emotional because all the songs are great, and her voice is at its best. (vickie@wwa.com)

One of my favourite singers. This is her first record. She sings traditional irish songs, Gershwin tunes and Billie Holiday's "Strange fruit" with her velvety heavily accented voice. To me she is the queen of torch. No one can sing with the same impact about failed love. (stjarnell@yahoo.com)


Uncertain Pleasures

Release info:

1990—WEA Records Ltd./EastWest—9031-71100-2

Availability:

Wide in Europe

Ecto priority:

Recommended for Mary fans

Group members:

Mary Coughlin—vocals

Guest artists:

Bob Andrews—accordion, keyboards
Guy Barker—trumpet
Conor Barry—guitar
Roger Beaujolais—glockenspiel
Richie Buckley—soprano sax
Frank Collins—backing vocals
Pat Collins—violin
Neil Conti—brushes, drums
Blair Cunningham—drums
Roy Dodds—drums
Jeff Dunn—drums
Simon Edwards—bass
Pete Glenister—bass programming, guitar
John MacKenzie—bass
Christian Marsac—guitar
Mark E. Nevin—guitar
Helen O'Hara—violin
Phil Overhead—drums, percussion
Gavin Povey—accordion
Ebo Ross—backing vocals
Nigel Rush—backing vocals
Violet Williams—backing vocals
Danny Thompson—bass
Kirsty MacColl—backing vocals

Produced by:

Pete Glenister, Kevin Moloney, Mark E. Nevin

Comments:

Uneven, but worth having. (vickie@wwa.com)

Sentimental Killer

Release info:

1992—East/West-Warner Music (U.K.)—9031-77175-2

Availability:

Wide in Europe

Ecto priority:

Recommended for Mary Coughlan fans

Group members:

Mary Coughlin—vocals

Guest artists:

Richie Buckley—soprano sax, tenor sax
Robbie Casserly—drums
James Delaney—Hammond B3, piano, synthesizer
Dick Farrelly—guitars
Paul Moore—electric bass, double bass

Comments:

Uneven, but worth having, if only for the great song "Magdalen Laundry." (vickie@wwa.com)

Love for Sale

Release info:

1993—Demon Records—FIENDCD 730

Availability:

Europe

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Guest artists:

Richard Buckley—tenor and soprano saxophone
Dick Farrelly—acoustic and electric guitar
James Delaney—piano, organ and synths
Paul Moore—bass guitar and double bass
Robbie Casserly—drums

Produced by:

Erik Visser

Comments:

This is a live album, recorded in February, 1993 at The Mean Fiddler in London. Mary is a wonderful live performer and this is a good one. She covers songs such as Sting's "Moon Over Burbon Street," Elvis Costello's "Upon A Veil Of Midnight Blue," ex-Pogues member Cait O'Riordan and Elvis Costello's song "Baby Plays Around," and Cole Porter's "Love For Sale." (vickie@wwa.com)

After the Fall

Release info:

1997—Big Cat Records

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Mary Coughlin—vocals

Guest artists:

Richie Buckley—soprano sax, tenor sax
Robbie Casserly—drums
James Delaney—Hammond B3, piano, synthesizer
Dick Farrelly—guitars
Paul Moore—electric bass, double bass

Produced by:

Erik Visser

Comments:

I'm currently going ga-ga over the most recent CD by Irish singer Mary Coughlan, which is called After the Fall, on Big Cat Records. She could be called a torch singer, and she is most often compared to Marianne Faithfull and, as one critic has written, "a post-Freudian Billie Holiday." I would also add Holly Cole to the list. (valrichardson@igc.org)


Thanks to vickie@wwa.com for work on this entry.

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Artists commented on by
jwermont @ sonic.net

21 entries

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Mary Coughlan

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Curve

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Entry last updated 2016-05-22 19:05:21.
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