Loreena McKennitt: An Ancient Muse

Joe Montague

Loreena McKennitt paints vivid pictures of love and adventure and ancient peoples.

Loreena McKennitt

An Ancient Muse

Label: Verve
US Release Date: 2006-11-21
UK Release Date: 2006-11-20

Loreena McKennitt’s An Ancient Muse is at times haunting, at other times simply beautiful, but mostly the Canadian alternative/world music artist is spectacular.

“The Incantation” provides a dark, moody introduction to An Ancient Muse. John Welsman’s string arrangement serves up a superb collection of violinists, viola players and cellists.

In her liner notes, McKennitt divulges her personal journey to discover the roots of the Celtic people. The singer’s fascination with Celtic music has been her calling card over the years. An Ancient Muse is somewhat of a historical travelogue that explores those roots as well as other cultures.

The strings of the oud and the vibrato of the kanoun are enchanting and immediately immerse us in an ancient Turkish mystique as “The Gates of Instanbul” open to welcome us. Athenian lyra player Sokratis Sinopoulos’ bow gently caresses his instrument, as he joins forces with Berklee graduate and violist Donald Quan. The duo possesses an eclectic background in music with Sinopoulos’ past forays into jazz and Quan’s past adventures including classic rock.

McKennitt embarks on a journey of rediscovery as she explores ancient cultures and their affect on one another. She also examines how various religions have found expression within those cultures. Music becomes the vehicle through which she travels, and “The Gates of Istanbul” are only the first stop on a wondrous journey. McKennitt wrote all the music and lyrics for An Ancient Muse with the exception of the lyric for “The English Ladye and the Knight”. The words to this song come straight from the pen of Scottish literary giant Sir Walter Scott.

McKennitt (who has done a masterful job of producing her own album) is spectacular in her vocal performance on “Caravanserai”. She, as well as Sarah Brightman, may very well be the most expressive singers of our day. The words arise from McKennitt’s Turkish and Mongolian experiences. She paints vivid pictures of The sand shimmering in the morning light / And dancing off the dunes so far away. Listeners are pulled into the experience of both seeing and experiencing what they hear. Through the travelers’ eyes, you see tents, now tiny against an immortal landscape. McKennitt is not content to say that it is hot, but helps you to feel “searing heat”.

“The English Ladye and the Knight” would be worth listening to if only for the beautifully romantic yet tragic story of lost love. McKennitt provides a tender and passionate reading for Sir Walter Scott’s poetry. The choral voices give you goosebumps.

If you are neophyte in the world of the tabla, then you will want to listen to Ed Hanley’s elegant hand percussion on “Kecharitomene”. The tabla is an East Indian drum that is beginning to appear in a variety of genres, including rock music. “Kecharitomene” will also introduce you to the hurdy gurdy, which at first sounds like something your grandmother warned would happen to you if you misbehaved. Also known as, the wheel fiddle, the stringed instrument is believed to have originated in the 10th century. The sound often resembles that of the bagpipes. You will also hear the elegant chords of the Celtic bouzouki. The instrument is a cousin to both the Greek bouzouki and the lute.

“Penelope’s Song” is the wooing song (my words). If there is an ounce, a wee bit of a morsel of romance that beats within your heart, then you will find a warm glow from deep within as McKennitt coos. The music takes a background to her vocals and to the lyrics. The charts are kept simple and yet pretty. The remaining tracks, “Sacred Shabbat”, “Beneath a Phrygian” “Sky and Never-Ending Road (Amhrán Duit)” are songs you will also come to treasure.

An Ancient Muse written, produced, and sung by Loreena McKennitt, is the most beautifully orchestrated and thoughtful album I have ever reviewed.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.