Loreena McKennitt’s music and lyrics

In the winter, when the dark evenings are long and I enjoy a cup of tea while looking out of my window to the stars, it is the time for me to listen to Loreena McKennitt’s music. This is by no means “easy listening” but it relaxes me a lot. It is music that I can sink into perfectly, especially when it’s dark outside and I can dream away.

Loreena McKennitt is a Canadian soprano singer and songwriter. Her music is inspired by mystic melodies, by celtic folk songs and middle eastern influences. She accordingly uses many unusual instruments: besides her singing, she performs many different instruments herself, such as a harp, an accordion and the keyboard. Many of her songs have been written by herself, but she also re-arranges classic folk music and even Elizabethan (resp. Shakespearian) songs.

My enjoyment of this music stems from her clear soprano voice, which has a marvelous, dreamy and still variable sound to it. Here is a very special singer who can transport her love for music to her listeners. I once had the distinct pleasure to listen to her in a live performance in an open-air concert – an evening that most certainly made my day.

I find it tricky to point out a few special songs here, as I can’t find any failures in her nine studio albums at all. They may all be recommended, and each has a certain feel to it, and I can’t put my finger on it – but different moods inspire me to listen to different albums. In particular, I refrain myself from posting links to any videos of her recordings – I wish to avoid cherry picking here.

My first encounters with her music came from the album “The Visit”, which contains the most beautiful rendition of the poem “The Lady of Shalott” – a poem known to every fan of Miss Marple’s detective stories, of course (“The mirror crack’d from side to side”) – which made me spend some time with English poetry for the first time. But then there is also the joyously sounding “All souls night”, the sad “Bonnie Portmore” and the ancient “Greensleeves” which apparently was only recorded in a short break in one take and still sounds wonderful on the album.

After I had been hooked, the album “Elemental” caught my attention with the harmonic duet “Carrighfergus”, a classic Irish song which is performed by a male singer and Loreena McKennitt rather contents herself with dreamy backing vocals. “Blacksmith” and “Stolen Child” are similar but the lyrics are performed by herself marvelously. Very notable is “She moved through the fair” for being entirely a cappella – there is not a hint of accompanying instrumentation to her crystal-clear voice. I am hard-pressed to think of any musician who would show this much courage on a recording (especially since this recording is about 30 years old now and couldn’t have been digitally enhanced).

“Parallel Dreams” was an album that I bought on a vacation trip many years ago, when there was too few information to know which albums were available – when I saw this during my trip to France, I bought it on the spot, the price certainly higher than what I’d have paid at home, but I wouldn’t regret that. With “Annachie Gordon” she performs a traditional Scottish song telling a sad love-story. And “Dicken’s Dublin” is a most beautiful and yet heart-breaking Christmas Song, speaking of the hope of a homeless child to find a home, and being voiced-over by a child narrating the story of the birth of Jesus. What beauty lies in this composition.

For “The Mask and the Mirror”, she wrote about her travels in the booklet, and how she was inspired for her various songs on this album. Here appear references to oriental and middle eastern music for the first time. “The dark Night of the Soul” has been her encore in her live performance that I attended, and the evening only got complete with this song. Never before have I witnessed a crowd that was so focused and so mesmerized by a single person performing on the stage.

“The Book of Secrets” appears to be one of her most famous albums, and rightfully so. With “Skellig”, “Dante’s Prayer” and “The Highwayman”, she again takes classical pieces uses this influence and produces wonderful art. I do not wish to make this whole post tedious by enumerating all the marvelous songs that can be found on “An Ancient Muse” and on “The Wind that shakes the Barley”, but let it be said that those most recent albums are by no means any worse than their predecessors. Wonderful music all over the place.

The sad thing is, that since 2010 there has not been any new music from her. But as she still travels the world and performs her music on stage, I have not given up hope that we’ll have new music eventually. And wouldn’t that be beautiful?

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