30 Icons of Echoes #14: Loreena McKennitt

Loreena McKennitt: Five Essential Albums 2020

Five Essential Loreena McKennitt CDs

How much do Echoes listeners love Loreena McKennitt?
They voted not one, but two of her CDs into our list of 200 CDs for 20 Years of Echoes.  And they were #1 and #2.   Her Christmas CD, A Midwinter Night’s Dream, was voted as their number one disc of The Best of Echoes 2009.  Finally they made  Loreena McKennitt one of 30 Icons of Echoes.  She began recording in 1985, but it was her 1991 album, The Visit that introduced her to Echoes. She’s been a major part of the show ever since with live performances and interviews and her music was one of the defining sounds of the world fusion played on the show.  She’s only released 10 studio albums in 35 years, along with six live recordings.  Here are the five that should be in your collection.

5 Essential Loreena McKennitt CDs

#1 The Mask and Mirror
Loreena McKennitt started out as a Celtic Diva, but she made a radical shift with The Mask and Mirror, a CD that explored Middle Eastern and Moroccan themes and had more dumbek than bodhran, more oud than harp.  In fact, her signature instrument barely appears on a CD that creates a darkly hued landscape of cinematic dimensions.  “The Mystics Dream”  with it’s gothic choirs and churning slow camel lurch has been a favorite in film trailers for years.  The Mask and Mirror is a nearly perfect album as McKennitt revels in the sensuality, mysticism and romance of her caravan journey.

#2 The Visit
This was the first Loreena McKennitt album I heard and I was immediately entranced by her mix of Celtic themes and Indian overtones.  The Visit is a turning point CD for McKennitt as she expanded on her Celtic themes and began finding a new, almost mythical sound.  “All Soul’s Night” is a dramatic rendering of Celtic myth and “The Lady of Shallott” revealed her penchant for the epic tale.  “Cymbeline” may be the most serene track she’s ever composed. Now there is a deluxe 30th anniversary release, The Visit: The Definitive Edition.

#3 The Book of Secrets
This was the follow up to The Mask and Mirror and it picks up on many of the same Middle Eastern themes.  Again there are epic stories like “The Highwayman”, gorgeous instrumentals like “La Serenissima” and on this album, the closest McKennitt has come to a hit, “The Mummer’s Dance.” A remix of the song got up to #18 on Billboard’s Hot 100. This is one of the more Celtic songs on the album, mixing hurdy gurdy with Middle Eastern percussion from Hossam Ramzy and the earthy bass of Danny Thompson.

#4 An Ancient Muse
It was nearly a decade between studio albums, but you’d never know from the way McKennitt picked up the caravan exactly where she got off on The Book of Secrets with her mystical journey through Middle Eastern and northern Saharan cultures.  You’ll find the same kind of album opening incantation that she used on the previous two CDs,  calling out in a wordless voice across an echoing space, cleansing the air and the mind.   What follows is a lot like those albums as well, a pan-global excursion centered on Middle Eastern themes and instruments cast into a dramatic exotica.   Taken as a group, An Ancient Muse sounds like a bit of a retread, but on its own, it’s as compelling as any of McKennitt’s other CDs.

#5 Parallel Dreams
This is not Loreena at her most Celtic.  That would be her first CD, Elemental which is mostly traditional songs sung by Loreena and played on harp.  But Parallel Dreams is the album where she realized she was an artist and all that entails.  She wrote much of the music herself, including songs like “Huron Beltane Fire Dance” which presages the moods and grooves of “The Mystics Dream.”  Although not as elaborately produced as her later CDs, Parallel Dreams, shows McKennitt stretching the concept of Celtic music and getting read to move on to grander themes.  The other records are epic, but this may be her most charming outing.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

 

 

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