Announced today on our sister platform, the multi award-winning Blues & Roots Radio, Ireland's Mary Stokes Band, who are based in Dublin, have won the station's prestigious annual award for best album of 2021, previous winner's have included Stephen Fearing (Canada), Lloyd Spiegel (Australia), Sandy McLelland (England) and Dione Taylor (Canada).
Each year Blues & Roots Radio asks a panel of radio hosts from the station, who are based around the world, to pick twenty albums that have been featured throughout the year, that they think should go forward to be considered for the annual Blues & Roots Radio Worldwide Album of The Year Award. Mary and her band came out tops with their live off the floor recording released in December 2020, and featured on the station in January 2021.
A full list of nominees can be found HERE
In preparation for a Dublin gig, the Mary Stokes Band rehearsed in Displace Studios on the evening of April 11, 2019. They gathered together on the studio floor just as they would on stage, and ran through some of the songs from their set.
It was a lively rehearsal, and it was all recorded upstairs in the control room by engineers Tom Lee and Darren Roe. They really enjoyed themselves, and felt the recordings captured the energy and dynamics of a live gig. A few months earlier, they had done the same thing in Sonic Studios rehearsing two songs with their friend Shobsy O’Brien, lead singer in the Irish band State Lights. He was joining the band the following night on Whelan’s main stage as their guest vocalist, duetting with Mary.
They recorded the duets from that rehearsal and included them here. Coincidentally, that was the first recording session with the remarkable Guitarist Sarah Michelle who had just joined the band. Since that night, they have developed a strong friendship and an exceptional working relationship with Sarah. Her creative musical virtuosity, commitment and genuine feel for the blues is featured throughout this album.
In combination with their kicking rhythm section of bassist Chris Byrne and drummer Robbie Barrett, augmented by Dermot Stokes on Piano and Brian Palm on Harmonica, this record offers a snapshot of a formidable blues band in full flight. Last Christmas (2020) the band released a single; a version of Bessie Smith’s ‘At the Christmas Ball’. As the bassist and drummer were stricken with a flu when they were recording, they didn’t make it on to that record.
Recently The Mary Stokes Band returned to the studio and recorded the song again with the full band, beautifully capturing a nostalgic, festive feel. It is a bright addition to this album. Forefront in all of these recordings are Mary’s passionate and expressive vocals delivering her blues with the power and conviction for which she and her band are widely known. Renowned producer Pete Holidai expertly mixed the songs to maintain the authenticity and raw excitement of a blistering live show.
We asked Mary and her life companion, Brian Palm, who is the harmonica player in the band, about the concept of the title track...
Mary explains "Comin’ Home is an original song, myself and Brian would have worked it out many moons ago. I think there's so many reasons why Comin’ Home means something in terms of blues, but also in terms of being Irish. And many times we've played gigs, over the years where, for example, people would have been away…maybe they might have been to Canada, or they might go to work all around the world. So immigration is part of a feature of Irish music. And sometimes I think that with blues, we make a connection between being Irish and playing blues. And I don't feel that it's foreign in any way. But it's important to remember that when people arrive at a gig, and it also happens where we play maybe regular gigs, once a year. And there's the sense that I'm going to get there, I'll see you and I'll be with you. And we'll be able to have time together. So that was my feeling, Brian?"
Brian said, "I was just thinking of getting back to North America. And with the people that we love over there will still be there when we get there. When you travel a lot of things change in your absence. And you re-enter other people's orbit that has continued without you. So that's always been an interesting thing for any artist. I think that coming home…you, go in order to come home, you have to go away. I guess that's part of the analogy there, too."
Mary adds, "But it's funny just to complete that then…when we were thinking about this last year, I should say one of the realities, of course, is that many of the touchstone events that we would have expected to participate in that we would have brought our music to…those weren't available. I actually…I really feel that, for me that it was part of an expression of a sort of a longing to get back to a place where we're all together and we can join and we can enjoy live music."
The full album presentation show can be listened to on demand HERE