An Ancient Muse
Quinlan Road/Universal Music Group, 2006
REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/09/2006
There is something inhuman and faerie about Loreena McKennitt. Whether it's her ethereal voice that makes Kate Bush sound substantial, her erudite and expressive knowledge of things occult and unusual (her liner notes read like the lectures of a particularly mystic anthropologist), or her almost supernaturally pale skin and hair, she just doesn't seem quite mortal. Interestingly enough, one of the common myths of Faerie (that's the place, not the adjective, for those of you who are confused) is that time doesn't work there; it doesn't quite run right, or it doesn't run at all.
McKennitt's first CD in seven years, An Ancient Muse, supports her elfin nature. When you listen to it, it seems no time has passed since 1999's Book Of Secrets. Certainly, her sound has not changed; it's the same wistful, eerie Celtic-tinged world music. Sure, this time the influences are Turkish and Mongolian rather than Spanish and Italian, but it's the same general feel.
In listening to An Ancient Muse, I found it remarkable that McKennitt's musical sound has, forall intents and purposes, not changed in seven years; given that her hiatus from recording was caused by the drowning death of her fiance in 1999. Mourning and loss usually changes a person's artistic output. With McKennitt, it seems instead to have paralyzed it like a fly in amber.
That's not to say that An Ancient Muse isn't good. Far from it, actually. The CD is perfectly produced and engineered, elegant and crisp, with McKennitt's crystalline vocals soaring and weaving through the instrumentation. The songs are excellent, with “Penelope's Song” and “Beneath A Phrygian Sky” leading the vocal selections and “Kecharitome” being the best of the instrumentals. The musicianship, the handiwork of a small army of studio musicians whose credits include kanoun, hurdy gurdy, Turkish clarinet, uilleann pipes, and bouzouki, is perfect.
In the end, though, An Ancient Muse is merely good, not great. It's a perfect map of known territory; McKennitt is not stretching herself at all or moving outside of her comfort zone. While that may be what she needed as a person while she was recording this, it doesn't show growth as an artist, and therefore leaves one feeling somewhat cheated.
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