Aoife Scott, left, and her cousins Danny O’Reilly and
Róisín O performed together recently at Kilmainham Gaol.
By Colleen Taylor
The Black Family needs no introduction in the world of Irish music. The family quintet started a career back in the1970s, a legacy that began with their own mother, Patty Black, who led a career as a music-hall singer before them. After debuting in Dublin, the Black siblings went on to record several albums throughout the ‘90s, as well as establish their own individual music careers apart from the family band. In particular, sisters Frances Black and Mary Black each established an individual reputation as one of Ireland’s greatest folk singers, going on, in their own relative merit, to succeed in international careers. Frances and Mary are still actively recording and performing: Frances released her album “Stronger” in 2013, and performed at the 1916 Centenary celebrations, and Mary released her much acclaimed “Stories from the Steeples” in 2011. However, although the success of these two women does not appear to be waning any time soon, the next generation of Blacks are beginning to take over the family business. Frances’s daughter, Aoife Scott, and Mary’s daughter, Róisín O, are impressing Ireland’s critics and fans in the early stages of their solo singing careers, while Mary’s son, Danny O’Reilly, continues to thrive in his band, the Coronas.
I’ve been a fan of Róisín O since her first release, “The Secret Life of Blue” (2012), and have written about her several times here in the column. One of the things I love most about Róisín O is that she achieved her young success on her own merit. You’d have to do some digging to realize she’s a Black, and she doesn’t over-advertise the connection to her mother Mary, letting her voice speak for itself. And speak it does. O’s vocals are earthy, inspired, fresh yet familiar. On top of all this, she is an incredible and creative songwriter. The young singer is not afraid to mix genres and influences, letting her Irish folk roots naturally blend with Afro, new age, and blues styles. Since the great success of her indie folk album, “The Secret Life of Blue,” O has continued to experiment, releasing two singles, “If You Got Love” (2015) and “Give It Up” (2016), that are a bit more electro-rock and pop inflected, respectively. O seems to be heading more mainstream, but she is doing so with an original vision and without compromising her beautiful vocals. At the end of the day, what makes Róisín O a star is her voice, plain and simple. No matter the genre, I would listen to Róisín O sing all day long—she has that unnamed special something that seems to be the Black family magical musical ingredient.
O’s brother, Danny O’Reilly, has been in the music business a few years longer than his sister. O’Reilly can trace his success with the Irish rock group, the Coronas, back to 2006. The Coronas sold out a show at Whelan’s, the most prestigious Dublin venue for new bands, and from there, they quickly produced their first studio album, “Heroes or Ghosts” (2007). They haven’t stopped the momentum since that moment, releasing a new album every couple of years, the latest of which is “The Long Way” (2014), which stands out as their most popular yet. Don’t let the label “Irish rock band” scare you off the Coronas. This is a band that embraces acoustic harmonization as well as electric guitar. Like his sister does, O’Reilly’s band features strong vocals and some impressive harmonies that are unique for a rock band. In fact, the band has often headlined with Róisín O herself, such as at the Galway Arts Festival. The Coronas have played tours in Australia and the UK and reached the top of the Irish Music Charts. They are known for being best heard live.
Last, but not least, Aoife Scott deserves mention. The daughter of Frances Black, Scott has very recently followed in her mother’s footsteps in beginning a solo music career. Her debut album, “Carry the Day” hit music stores six months ago. She accompanied the release with a show on the “Late Late Show.” Scott is the most traditional singer of the next generation of Blacks, but she too puts her own spin on things. There is a hint of an indie interpretation of the Irish folk tradition akin to her cousin, Róisín’s in her songs, even in Irish language songs, like “Fásaim.” Some of my favorites on the album, like “Deep Dark Water” and “What You Do With What You’ve Got,” turn to Americana and country music for lively acoustic original tracks. Other songs, however, like “Slán Leat” preserve the kosher Irish folk tradition. Scott’s voice is sweet, wispy, and an important installment in the legacy of traditional Irish music.
These three ambitious and talented young people each have their own creative vision for their respective music careers, but when the occasion arises, they do take time out from their individual work to perform together. As part of RTE’s 1916 Centenary Commemoration, Róisín, Aoife and Danny performed a cappella in Kilmainham Gaol. They sang a gorgeous, haunting version of “Grace” together, in honor of Grace Gifford and Joseph Plunkett. Their exquisite harmonies echoed throughout the panopticon at Kilmainham. Danny O’Reilly’s voice proved a surprise star of the rendition, while the harmonies of the cousins Aoife and Róisín left a simultaneously warm and melancholic impression. The video, available on YouTube, is definitely worth viewing, both for its historical legacy as well as to simply see what the Black family continues to achieve for Irish music and culture.