Occasionally I will review a CD, film, guitar or piece of audio gear. Here’s a review on a CD I am currently addicted to; Loreena McKennitt’s “The Book of Secrets”.
UNDER LOREENA’S SPELL:
The Book of Secrets, 1997 Quinlan Road Records
By Drewcifer Von Tone
Take a musical journey through an exotic, alluring world with Canadian singer/multi-instrumentalist Loreena McKennitt; a world where east harmonizes soulfully with west.
I am a late-comer to McKennitt's music, but what a wonderful find she has been! "The Book of Secrets" is a musical masterwork, conjuring magical imagery and dreamscapes of rich color. The 1997 release is, like all her albums, on her own Quinlan Road label. Being a fan of Clannad, and to a lesser extent of Enya, I find McKennitt's music to be more haunting, more imaginative and more aurally textural than either of the other two.
There are many enchanting tales inside "The Book of Secrets", but none more stirring than the 1997 hit single, "The Mummer's Dance", a positively addicting blend of Arabic percussion, hypnotic drones, and soaring vocal melody. I consider myself much more a Celtic music fan than a New-Ager, but this song is a genre-buster; cutting a wide appeal across World, Celtic, New Age, Folk, and even Pop. The more traditionally Celtic "Skellig" paints the lonely picture of a Medieval Irish Monk and Scribe, living in devout solitude in the harsh Skellig Islands. The instrumental "Marco Polo" transports us to the smoky late-night Bazaars of Persia, where mystery, danger and romance await around every darkened corner; behind every silken veil. You can almost smell the opium on the night air. And perhaps my favorite is "The Highwayman", a tragic love story whose lyrics are adapted from the famous poem by Alfred Noyes. McKennitt is obviously a life-long student of classic poetry, and her own lyric-writing reads like it. These songs resonate. These songs intoxicate.
McKennitt's musical quest has set her on a pan-continental journey from the misty moors of Ireland to the mysterious markets of Marrakech. Atop it all, her ringing soprano stirs the very soul of the ancient traveler, the lover; the dreamer. You wouldn't imagine that an artist could weave Celtic and Arabic styles so seamlessly in to one tapestry, but not only does McKennitt do just that, she does it so beautifully that it makes one realize that these ancient sounds are not so diverse after all. She has found, at the core of it, that eastern and western music share a common and radiant soul.
RECORDING NOTES: From a production standpoint, “The Book of Secrets” is immaculate. The project was tracked and mixed at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio in Wiltshire England, and was mastered stateside by Bob Ludwig at Gateway in Maine. Producer credits go to McKennitt and Brian Hughes, with engineers Stuart Bruce and the famous Kevin Killen (U2, Peter Gabriel, Elvis Costello). It was an all analog recording, recorded in 1996 and ’97 using multiple Studer machines and Gabriel’s wrap-around SSL 4000. The challenge of blending no less than fifty different instruments of every era and timbre must have been incredibly daunting. Heck, just getting them in tune was a project, so I’m told. McKennitt blends traditional European instruments (piano, harp, pipes, strings) with Arabic drums and drones, while also incorporating ancient devices like hurdy-gurdy, viola da gamba and Victorian guitar. Add to that McKennitt’s resonant operatic soprano, and the result is the most eclectic and exotic sonic-texture I have experienced, maybe ever.
Look for Loreena’s PBS TV special, “Nights from the Alhambra” coming in March.