“If you ever want to test your marriage,” councils Mary Greene, “edit an album shoulder-to-shoulder with someone that you’re married to and if it survives that, you’re grand.”
And with this she delivers a hearty laugh, and well she might — Greene and her husband Noel Shine have edited albums on a few occasions and they have not been found wanting.
Their musical and life partnership began in the ’80s when Greene ventured beyond her home in Dunmore East, Co Waterford to make her way to the Cork Folk Festival. Her family owned a music venue, and apart from soaking up the acts at the festival and fitting in some busking, Greene was tasked to recommend acts to play the venue. When she spotted Shine playing as part of a duo with John Spillane in Flynn’s bar on Union Quay, it became obvious the entertainment of her parents’ clientele was of secondary concern.
“I remember distinctly seeing them and thinking: ‘Those lads are great. Especially the big fellow’,” she chuckles.
The couple performed as Noel Shine & Mary Greene, but eventually a name change was required as their younger daughter Ellie took a greater role in their performances.
“She was coming out playing with us from about the age of 11 or 12,” Greene points out. “She’d come up and do a couple of songs here and there. Then she was just doing more and more.”
Eventually the musical entity known as Greenshine was born. Mary may be the principal songwriter but it is truly a family affair. Though shy about appearing on stage, their other daughter Sadie gets to sing a song on every album and with their latest, Ellie, having cemented her place further with her first co-writing credits on the tracks ‘The Good Is Gone’ and ‘Dandelion Seed’, opening the latter with the words: “We are family now”.
The collection of songs on the third Greenshine album, Family, are typically sweet, but substantial affairs, hanging together with the lightest of threads.
“Younger people especially are used to hearing one track at a time whereas we still think in albums,” observes Greene, “so one runs into the next.”
It becomes apparent that the delicate melodies and seductive harmonies cloak an underlying sadness, which Greene makes clear as she talks us through the album. It all harks back to a terrible 10 days in September 2017, when she lost her father and one of her brothers, Jason.
“I was trying to write a song about Jason and everything was awful,” she recalls. “Everything was: ‘Ugh, that’s a horrible song’, but then I hit on this one song that kind of stuck. So there was that song.”
That song, ‘Little J’, is the penultimate track on Family and it’s followed by the poignant ‘Ricochet’, an unfinished number that Mary was demoing with Jason.
“That’s only a tiny little track. After he died then, I put harmonies on it and I left it out as it is. I was supposed to write some of it.
“He was a very good songwriter, but he didn’t really do much of it. But every so often he’d come out with something great,” she says proudly.
Delving back into her ample store of unrecorded and unreleased songs, Greene alighted on the 10-years-old autumnal sounding White Trails, “which is also about — but much more uplifting — about somebody dying,” says Greene. “So they kind of seemed to fit together.”
Recently, she has found herself writing with local singer-songwriter Cormac O’Caoimh, and a track they were working on called ‘Brother’ also took on a resonance. So where does an artist go from there?
“Then you’re kind of looking at songs maybe to lighten that a bit. Although ‘Poncho and Lefty’ is on it, a Townes Van Zandt song, which is also about death, but it’s death with a beat,” she adds with a triumphant smile.
“So they kind of all started to hang together then. And ‘Cold Easterly’ had a kind of a country feel to it and Noel was very fond of that one, so I decided to do that. So then it starts to take on almost like an Americana thing.”
Greene pauses briefly before adding with a chuckle: “This album is a downer. Six songs in and it’s a downer.”
The truth is it’s anything but. Greenshine could sing the party hits of Leonard Cohen and make the listener feel they’ve been taken on a gilded adventure. In fact, they visit a song associated with the Canadian master, though not written by him, ‘The Partisan’. Again, it comes from a similar space to ‘Pancho and Lefty’ and is true to the well from which they draw in their own writing and their inspiration — Texan songwriters like Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and the Carter Family before them. To balance the mood, John Prine’s whimsical ‘Sabu Visits the Twin Cities Alone’ was added.
“We put that in the middle to kind of lighten the load. A lot of time spent on the running order. Again, going back to the old fashioned idea of listening to an album as a piece.”
Their gig at the chapel in Nano Nagle Place also sees a link to their past. Promoted by Pat Conway who ran the celebrated Union Quay venue The Lobby, where Greene and Shine regularly played. For the gig, the trio will be joined by drummer Martin Leahy and pedal steel player David Murphy, whose playing enlivens tracks 1, 3, and 6 on the album!
Greenshine play Nano Nagle Place on Friday, July 26, at 8pm.