Sunday, January 7, 2007

Loreena McKennitt's "An Ancient Muse"

An Ancient Muse, gives fans of Loreena McKennitt's "eclectic Celtic" music exactly what they expect, nothing more, but certainly nothing less. McKennitt picks up right where she left off with 1997's The Book of Secrets, this time with her songs inspired by the Silk Road, English poetry and classical mythology.

The sound of An Ancient Muse continues down the path McKennitt started on with 1994's The Mask and The Mirror. While she hasn't completely abandoned her roots in Celtic Folk, the songs are heavily influenced by Mediterranean and Arabic traditions, and feature instruments that many American and Western European listeners would be hard pressed to pronounce, let alone identify.

The worst that can be said about this album is that it doesn't give us any surprises. The songs, for the most part, follow the formula that McKennitt established on her previous two studio albums. Like previous albums, there is an opening piece featuring almost arrhythmic instrumentation and wordless vocalizations by McKennitt. There is the mandatory setting of a classic poem featuring ill-fated lovers that end up dead in the end. There are a couple of lively instrumentals, and the album ends with a meditative ballad. McKennitt's harp is regrettably scarce.

Of course, one of the best things to be said about the album is that it is very much familiar ground. Fans who waited nearly a decade for new material are getting exactly what they've been waiting for. McKennitt has created a genre of music all her own, with elements of folk, classical, world music and pop rolled together and backed by some phenomenal instrumentalists, such as Hugh Marsh and Nigel Eaton on fiddle and hurdy-gurdy respectively.

One of the few, and most interesting changes from past albums is a greater use of the western-style drum kit. The drums add a certain degree of punch to songs like "The Gates of Istanbul" and "Caravanserai".

The tracks

Incantation-An airy, shapeless instrumental that sets the mood and beckons us into McKennitt's world

The Gates of Istanbull-An upbeat and rolling piece, the drum kit gives it an almost reggae-like beat that you can tap your foot to

-Possibly the strongest track on the album, after the typical long intro, it breaks into a powerful, rolling gait, pulling us along on the back of a camel towards the titular caravanserai

The English Ladye and The Knight-A setting of a poem by Sir Walter Scott about, what else, ill-fated lovers. Very pretty, but it drags somewhat compared to the songs before and after it.

Kecharitomene-Another brilliant instrumental that builds slowly and solidly until Marsh's pyrotechnic fiddling puts the last minute into overdrive

Penelope's Song-A piano driven track that takes the perspective of Odysseus's wife, who waited for him at home all those years.

Sacred Shabbat-Yet another quality instrumental, this time with it's roots in the traditions of Jewish music

Beneath a Phrygian Sky-The longest track on the album. A haunting call to arms for the forces of love and unity.

Never-Ending Road (Amhran Duit)-McKennitt sends us on our way with this gentle benediction. About the never ending journey that is life. "Here is my heart, I give it to you/ take me with you across this land"

For more information go to Loreena McKennitt's Quinlan Road site

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