Mary Coughlan: Life Stories review – Truthful and tenderhearted without sentimentality

Coughlan’s emotions dart between aggrieved injustice, acceptance and resilience

Life Stories
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Artist: Mary Coughlan
Genre: Singer / Songwriter
Label: Hail Mary Records

When it comes to life stories, Mary Coughlan has quite a few to tell. The Galway-born singer has always been upfront about her troubled life and has confronted her demons in song-form many times in the past.

Thirty-five years after her debut Tired & Emotional was released, she is characteristically confessional on her latest despatch. This is an album that combines world-weariness and refreshing frankness with a sense of self-deprecation, as heard on Twelve Steps Forward and Ten Steps Back, a song that pokes fun at her alcoholism and subsequent treatment.

Coughlan’s voice is as rousing as ever, its rich, buttery tone beautifully suited to pensive songs like Elbow Deep, yet simultaneously sultry and provocative on the glitzy cabaret of High Heel Boots and Do It Again.

Anchored by her trademark bluesy jazz sound, the tracklist’s tussle between musical styles strikes just the right balance, although the slick beats of Why Do All the Good Guys Taste So Bad is a smidge jarring.

Elsewhere, it’s impossible not to gravitate towards the emotional ballads, where Coughlan’s emotions dart between aggrieved injustice, acceptance and resilience, and often all three within the confines of one song.

Safe and Sound, a poignant reflection directed toward her children, is just one highlight on an album that manages to be truthful and tenderhearted without sentimentality.

After this long in the game, that’s no mean feat.