Universally known, Folk/World musician and producer Loreena McKennitt is a shining icon of musical beauty, warmth, and grace endlessly. Her music opens new and wide horizons for discovering the forgotten heritage of the North and transforms Celtic classic pieces into profound and breathtaking musical notes.
Here, I am not only reviewing all Loreena Mckennitt studio recordings but I am also proposing my personal experience with her music. I am somehow regretful that I didn’t discover Loreena Mckennitt on my own, but one of my best friends introduced me to Loreena’s music by recommending “The Books of Secrets” last November. I didn’t think that this album would open the gates to discover a wonderful ageless world of tunes.
Experiencing Loreena’s music for me was so exceptional so, I decided to open my heart and soul and narrate my experience. I spent a week of isolation lost in books and Loreena’s music. I felt strange feelings of being really engaged in her music, voice and every line she wrote on her website.
“Celtic history would become my creative springboard. Musically, I came to learn of and be inspired by many bands and artists ranging from those who authentically recreate its traditional forms” L.M.
Recorded within a week in a barn in Southern Ontario.”Elemental” was the first release by Loreena. Through this album, she started establishing her iconic journey as a musician, singer, and producer. “Elemental” is the shortest full-length album by Loreena, it is only 36 minutes and consists of 9 tracks. The first impression Loreena delivered through “Elemental” is that she is capable of enriching folk music by mixing it with the attractive fusion of instruments besides her impressive dramatic vocals.
She re-defined the beauty of soprano vocals. She used her voice as an extra instrument and most of the time as a maestro for her orchestra. Besides, she expressed that she could beautifully introduce musical adaptations for classic poems.
Musically, she aimed to stress certain characteristics brightening her music asher extraordinary talent as a multi-instrument player and composer. Most of her “Elemental” tracks were based on harp sound and its presence. If you go back to the cover, you will notice the harp.
Starting with an impressive folk Accordion riff is absolutely a fantastic intro for the album, “Blacksmith”. It is a short traditional track that carries a heartwarming story of a woman; as for me, I felt frozen as I faced somehow a similar situation, although it is not depressive, it is closer to a narrative one. But, for a moment of reminiscent, I found myself holding the lyrics sheet and crying. She could perfectly give us the impression of this wounded lady.
After “Blacksmith”, there is another breathtaking track, “She moved through the Fair”. I think Loreena’s performance of this track was closer to the theatrical monologue, it is highly narrative, highly monotonic. Plus, the track is highly atmospheric. You can smell the watered Green grass, feel the breeze of Ireland and engage your soul to the sounds of bells and birds.
Next is “Stolen Child“, originally the track was a poem renewed by Irish poet W.B Yeats. I think it is really smart that Loreena uses a poem by Irish culture icon. W.B Yeats is one of the most influential names in the history of English literature; he tackled wide themes in his poetry starting from Spiritual, Eco poetic, Philosophical to political issues. English Certified educator M.P. Ossa mentioned in one of his published studies,
“The Stolen Child” is a poem that combines Irish mythology, mystery, and romanticism as it pertains to childhood, and is adjacent to the modern world. This being said, the main theme that we can gather from the poem is the struggle to maintain the innocence of childhood versus the duty of having to experience the reality of life. In the end, the faeries will -we assume- protect the child from having to go into the duties of the grown-up life.
The track is magical, carries multiple catchy harp tunes with some atmospheric touches. As for me, it is the most well-composed track in the album musically and vocally. After that, comes a beautiful short instrumental track “The Lark in the Clear Air“, it is like a short instrumental interlude at the heart of the album.
After that comes “Carrighfergus”. You may feel that “Carrighfergus” is a continuation of “The Lark in the Clear Air“. The track is a deeply emotional calm piece that carries an impressive well-known English Canadian actor and musician Cedric Smith‘s voice. Simply, the mood of the track can pause your mind for minutes.
“Kellswater” as for me it’s the best-performed track in the album vocally. There is a notable fusion between musical lines and the various pitches of Loreena’s voice. There is an unlimited amount of magic and beauty in her vocals, unlimited enjoyment.
“Banks of Claudy” is another traditional track played by harp and directed by clam and captivating vocals which bring a cold winter mood to the soul.
Then comes a short melodic track “Come by the Hills” as fantastic as its melodies are really easy to be captured, you will find yourself in the heart of the song.
“Lullaby” is the final track of the album and it is another literary piece. It’s a poem by Pre-Romantic English poet William Blake “Prologue”. Intended for a Dramatic Piece of King Edward the Fourth”. The track is closer to be a dramatic monologue. It starts with the sounds of rain and thunder to give the reader a vivid portrait of the poem.
Loreena’s vocals in this track are almost a background melodic instrument. It is like a strong backing for the monologue. It is highly theatrical; you can trace Douglas Campbell’s performance and his different voice pitches.
To Sum up -as I mentioned before- What really marks “Elemental” is that Loreena has delivered her main musical ideology and how she aims to re-frame the cultural heritage of the Celts. She also introduced improved versions from traditional stuff and enriched them through magical musical fusion.
“Elemental” is recalling the powers of nature and roots. Nature is the divine powers that form the individual. Human is affected by the surroundings: culture, music, behaviors, and nature. The artist beautifully scripted the elements that formed her artistic dimensions including the glory of the Celts, folk music, theater, instruments, literature, and nature.
Parallel Dreams (1989)
“Beyond the transportation into fantasy, dreams have served as a vehicle through which we have integrated our conscious and subconscious, real and surreal, the powerful and the intangible. ” L.M.
“Parallel Dreams” is one of the most celebrated albums by Loreena McKennitt. This album marks a new improvement in her career. It witnesses wide additions in her musical styles such as that more instruments were employed also more literary choices and narratives and various moods. She expressed that the main concept of this album is dreams whether in fantasy or reality. It was really smart that she used a warm nocturnal cover art.
The first two tracks: “Samain Night” and “Moon Cradle” carried the same musical vibe. A beautiful string work scripted with mesmerizing chanting vocals. “Moon Cradle” lyrics were inspired by “The Ballad of Downal Baun” by Irish poet Padraic Colum.
The third track is an impressive instrumental epic piece called “Huron ‘Beltane’ Fire Dance”. This track carries the familiar melodic riffs of the North’s heritage: harmonious drum and percussion beats, and traditional epic rhythms. The music is simply inspired by the traditional dances and festivals of the earliest tribes that inhabited the North. When you listen to the track, you will find yourself closing your eyes and recall images from your brain of those traditional dances in national Northern festivals.
Came up next “Annachie Gordon“. One of the most known folk narratives in the Irish collective heritage. The plot of the story was adapted many times musically and thematically. It also rings bells with Romeo and Juliet.
Loreena McKennitt uses her magical dramatic vocals to compose a magical attractive and narrative style for the story. Her breathtaking voice and her stunning harp tunes painted the air and beautified the story.
“Standing Stones” came afterward as one of Loreena McKennitt‘s best tracks: Bringing the smell of a salty sea, shining sun rays, and vast lands of green while recalling the glory of the ancestors.
Then comes “Dickens Dublin” my personal favorite track. It is another evidence for Loreena‘s narrative usage and how she employs different effects to paint musical portraits. The track talks about a homeless girl who dreams of having a place she can call home.
The presence of the piano, the sounds of carriages, and the young girl’s voice were well-employed effects. When it comes to Loreena’s voice, it is like another charming narrative soul of the song.
Referring to Dickens is impressively symbolic. He is known with discussing several social disadvantages in English society. He stressed on child-abuse, the homeless and injustice labor rules against children.
I remember in my childhood I was captivated by the cruelty narrated in “Oliver Twist” and in the Japanese anime series “Romeo’s Blue Skies” which expressed the hardships of the homeless children who working crafts under the supervision of cruel craftsmen to earn livings. But the closest story for the track is the short story “The Little Match Girl” by Danish poet and author “Hans Christian Andersen”.
Next up was “Breaking the Silence” which opened with an instrumental intro as a conversation between instruments. I think, the track musically is based on different sounds of different nations as the nations of the North and Africa who suffered from colonialism and called for freedom and independence.
Finally comes “Ancient Pines“. A magical, impressive instrumental track reflecting a mysterious taste of tragedy.
To sum up, “Parallel Dreams” is a continuation of the classic style Loreena McKennitt started with some improvement in the sound. Plus, she featured her own compositions and lyrics. Musically, it’s softly scripted to express the sensitivity, confusion, and softness of dreams. There is a deep philosophy of this album which expresses the different imaginations of the mind: conscious and unconscious, real and fantasy. In addition, Loreena sheds the light on the complexity of some human’s brain of crafting dozens of images, sounds and linking between reality and imagination.
The Visit (1991)
“I have long considered the creative impulse to be a visit – a thing of grace, perhaps, not commanded or owned so much as awaited, prepared for. A thing, also, of mystery. This recording endeavours to explore some of that mystery.” L.M.
When it comes to “The Visit” I must mention that it’s one of the best written and composed releases. She evokes herself into new realms of Celtic music with wider cultural engagements.
As she expressed, “The Visit” is a musical historical journey. I have a nice story with this album as it was her second release I heard and it was a part of a small challenge I made to break a serious depression phase after many break downs.
So, I decided to end a book –in 10 days– and every day I finished a number of pages of it while listening to one of Loreena McKennitt‘s albums. I remember well that I had a wonderful reading time at 4 am; I finished that day’s reading part with the last tune of “The Visit”. During the challenge, I noted down some memorable quotes from her tracks in the book.
Before talking about the album, there is a question should be mentioned, What are the kinds of the journey and What is its importance?
Through the introduction of his book “The Most Surprising Journeys in History” iconic Egyptian thinker and author Anis Mansour, the icon of traveling literature expressed the meaning of the journey.
“There are three kinds of a journey: traveling, reading and reading traveling literature. Who travels to distant destinations starves for knowledge, understanding and exploring the other side of the mountains, rivers or seas in addition to discovering the other side of humanity and human’s experience for self-development.”
Analyzing various kinds of journeys between reality and fantasy as the Iliad, the Odyssey, Divine Comedy, Marco Polo travels, Ibn Jubyr, Herodotus, Gulliver’s Travels, Arabian Nights, discovering Asia, Persian Kingdom (Iran), Silk Routes, the hidden places in Japan and China and more was the main goal for Mansour to extract the morals of leaving everything behind for discovering the unknown.
A scene from one of Turkish traveler Evliya Celebi journeys
Moving to “The Visit”, The album is initiated by “All Souls Night“. One of my most favorite tracks; you can trace that she started painting her music with some Eastern tunes through percussion and strings.
The theme of the track is related to one of the most celebrated Japanese traditions, “Toro Nagashi”. He is a long-held Japanese tradition where candle-lit lanterns are released into rivers to guide the spirits of ancestors back to the other world during the Obon season. There is a mysterious sound of excitement, harmonious lines come up together to enrich your night with rays of blue and white.
The first time I heard this song was in January, I felt an enormous amount of unspeakable happiness and rejoice while listening to it under the rain. The next day I played it in the car and stared at the wet trees and streets in the rhythms of “All Souls Night“.
Then comes “Bonny Portmore“. It is sorrowful as it discusses the tragedy of humanitarian cruelty against nature. Just imagine Loreena stands before a cut tree that it was a habitat for birds and a source of warmth and shade, turn to be scattered pieces of wood. I really respect the idea of discussing eco themes. You may feel that giving a place for an eco-themed track is far from the concept of journey, but when my mom gave me the book of Mansour I mentioned above, he mentioned important facts about the position of trees in journeys.
“The tree of travelers, it is a huge banana tree located in Madagascar, its leaves are serpentine so the rain waters are saved inside the leaves. The travelers go to this tree to get water and rest under its shadow. There is a myth narrates that there is a kind of birds inhabits the tree when the people around it are travelers” After that, there is a beautiful melodic instrumental track, “Between the Shadows“. I felt that it carries Persian/Asian influences.
The upcoming track is one of the most celebrated ones by Loreena “The Lady of Shallot”. One of the most well-known poems by the legendary Victorian English poet Alfred Lord Tennyson.
In poetry lectures at college, I remember all discussions about Lord Tennyson’s poetry. His implication of figures of speech, how he discusses his thoughts and themes and how he mastered using vivid touching imagery.
There is a moral of the presence of this poem in “The Visit”. It is like a bridge between history, literature, mythology and the present time. Plus, Lady of Shallot decided to follow her own voice ignoring threats and warnings, finally, she reached death alone. It rings bells with the tragedy of various travelers who ignore prophecies, advice and follow their mono-voice.
It happened with Robinson Crusoe, he ignored the advice of the old man who told him to stay on the ground for his safety and not to adventure the sea, but Crusoe made his dream come true and travel into the sea and it ended with casting him away and alone on an isolated island for many years.
I can’t deny that Loreena did a great job to create a wonderful musical adaptation for the poem, especially dealing with poetry is really challenging for artists and literature students too. But, I wish she could’ve made an adaptation for “In Memoriam A.H.H.” I am sure she would introduce a deep, touching expression for the poem.
The Lady of Shallot painting by John William Waterhouse
“Greensleeves” was next on the playlist. Musically it is a traditional piece but Loreena enriched her version by using King Henry VIII’s words as lyrics. It has really enriched the idea of having a historical journey inside the old ages. Moving on to the next track “Tango to Evora“. When I listened to the track, I was surprised that music is so familiar to me without noticing that it is composed of Loreena.
A charming melodic classic guitar riffs, with catchy sensational harp tunes and a romantic violin melody! Bringing mood of love, beauty, and warmth. The track impressively breaks the ice of the cold emotions; sending the breeze of the Mediterranean to the mind.
Just imagine, waking up late in a summer night with the sweat on the face, aching from the heat, walking on the ground with naked feet, open the window and catch the smell of the salty water.
What’s greatly impressive that Loreena proved to the whole universe that she is a worldwide icon, and she can transfer her music to any place, by any tongue.
In the late 1990s, Greek music icon Haris Alexiou revealed to the whole world her version for Loreena‘s “Tango to Evora“. Alexiou used the same music but she adapted an ancient Greek myth as lyrics and gave it the title of “To Tango tis Nefelis”
“Courtyard Lullaby” is another magical harp track with ghost themes. You can touch the glory and presence of the huge statues. The melody of the track reflects the ancient smell of the location; old abandoned place, reflected sun rays, forgotten stories that turned to dust.
After that comes “The Old Ways“. It is a sensitive track for me when I listened to it for the first time. I felt that my blood was frozen inside my veins! Not for the captivating lyrics but for the epic fusion of vibes. You can feel the Irish traditional taste musically scripted in amazing riffs. I can’t describe what I’ve felt exactly, but it was unpleasant.
I remembered the final emotional dilemma I am trapped in, my dearest one has gone away, feelings of depression and loneliness, being stuck in very tragic events in my career and my social relations with friends.
For moments I caught the cold breeze of lonely Christmas nights, glimpsing old dusty streets with erased footprints. Finally, “Cymbeline” is a depressive melodic adaptation for Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline”. Loreena chose to end her historical journey by one of the Shakespearean “Cymbeline” soliloquies.
After listening to “The Visit” just take a deep breath and sigh, WOW! I can’t deny that it is one of the closest albums to my heart. The smell of the ancient sea, the warmth of ancient homes, hanged brunches shades reflected on the sepia effects. I can’t find adequate words to frame my impression; I hope I did my best to describe what I’ve experienced.
Loreena managed to give us various chapters of history and adventure. The tunes are perfectly organized, great use of vocals, consistent themes choices.
What’s “The Visit”?
I believe that there is a certain secret in the title of the album. I think Loreena meant with “The Visit” that something unexpected happened. It is like knocking the doors of the unknown and carrying this sense of mystery and surprise. Not all the surprises are pleasant, nor some dream visits.
Loreena analyzed different types of visits, starting from the happy Japanese ones of sending light to the soul of the beloved, then a sad visit to a destroyed natural beauty of a tree that was cut and collapsed to ashen woods, another historical visit that ended by death in seek of catching a sight!
“The Visit” is our doors that we are afraid to go through, forgotten steps we regret to take, the history that impacts present or history that is repeated in present. Marked traces on “The Old Ways” of shades from the past and shadows of the existed.
That’s was our first part, stay tuned for the upcoming one:
“The Mask and Mirror” & “The Book of Secrets”
For giving our audience the best reading experience ever and a suitable time for enjoying our article, Rock Era Magazine decided to introduce the article in four parts:
- Part One: “Elemental”,”Parallel Dreams”,and”The Visit”
- Part Two: “The Mask and Mirror”
- Part Three: “The Book of Secrets”
- Part Four: “An Ancient Muse”
- Part Five: “The Wind that Shakes the Barley”
- Part Six: “Lost Souls”
- Part Seven: Seasonal Releases