Newest Review: ... of the production. Each of her albums is very much a musical travelogue, both of her own travels around the globe and also those of the anc... more
A musical and spiritual journey
The Mask And The Mirror - Loreena McKennitt
Member Name: steerpyke
The Mask And The Mirror - Loreena McKennitt
Advantages: emotive and beautiful music
Disadvantages: deffinatley suitable only for those quieter moments
Like most of Loreena McKennitt's work, this album takes the form of a musical journey, a journey across not only physical landscapes, but also through time. Often seen as a competitor to Enya's place as queen of this almost cross-genre new age chilled music, the two ladies do have a lot in common both musically and personally. However to merely label her work as an Enya copyist is doing a major disservice as for as much as they have in common with each other, there is as much that separates them. Whilst Enya seems content to reference fantasy realms and dreamscapes, McKennitt's interest seems to lie in real places, historical settings and foreign cultures, enabling her to build the same sort of inspirational musical structures but ones grounded in reality. In musical terms also there is a difference, Enya's gradual move from the early pop inspired songs into more classical realms has opened many doors for her, McKennitt, on the other hand has always drawn on a wide range of world music to create her wonderful soundscapes. Here there is a very Spanish undercurrent to her work, but the threads that connect with this central idea lead in all sorts of direction. It's a journey that takes you from 15th century Spain with its mix of religions, Islam, Judaism and Christianity and outwards into a wider web of pathways. From the more familiar turf of the west coast of Ireland, through the troubadours of France, crossing over the Pyrenees and then to the west through Galicia, down through Andalusia and past Gibraltar to Morocco. It dwells on specific events and peoples, The Crusades, the pilgrimage to Santiago, Cathars, the Knights Templar, the Sufis from Egypt, One Thousand and One Nights in Arabia, the Celtic sacred imagery of trees, the Gnostic Gospels and even poses some of the biggest of questions such as who is God? and what is religion, what is spirituality? What was revealed and what was concealed...and what was the mask and what the mirror?
Inspired by an evening wandering around the old Moorish quarter of Granada with Idries Shahs book "the Sufis" as a guide, "The Mystics Dream" is that mix of eastern rhythms and western chant that encapsulates the history of southern Spain. Male Gregorian chant forms a body on which the song builds whilst hand drums create the songs pace and finally Loreena's well-enunciated and crystal clear voice completes the image. As the song grows Arabic pipes weave in and out and hand bells chime in the distance and images of flickering lights against warm terracotta walls and the bustle of merchants and visitors from distant lands are not hard to imagine.
The forty shades of green of Ireland are the more familiar setting for "The Bonny Swans" and musically it has a more familiar make up. Driven by the usual hand percussion rather than the full kit but formed mainly of a violin and electric guitar that spiral around each other, there is a very Celtic folk feel to this. It seems odd to many people that such glorious music inspirited by the various threads that stem from the Celtic lands, i.e. Western Europe is done so well by someone not born of the place, McKennitt is after all from rural Manitoba, Canada. But the woman in question seems to have lived a very nomadic lifestyle for the last twenty years exploring the Celtic legacy through music and should really be considered a citizen of the global village in a very real sense.
"The Dark Night of the Soul" is based on Spanish medieval poetry, specifically a work called "St John of the Cross" a work that seems inspired by Islamic ideology though firmly sitting in the Christian body of devotional work. Musically it is a haunting melody, only a minimal acoustic guitar and a violin, which really comes into its own in the spaces between the vocals arrangement, back the soft and breathy vocals. It is a soothing and relaxing work and typifies the nature of Loreena McKennitt's work. It is a non-intrusive style that washes over you and connects with the emotional parts of the mind, making it wonderful background music for those quiet times. But also once you take the time to understand what the music is about it is inspirational and breath taking in its scope. This is certainly one area that far exceeds the better-known Enya whose words can often let her music down due to their immature style and cheesy delivery. Here the lyrics add a whole dimension to the work rather than detract from it.
In terms of theme "Marrakech Night Market" returns to the same ideas as the opening song. But whereas the first number mixed eastern and western traditions, musically this is pure Arabic flavour and only the fact that it is sung in English gives away its non-authentic origins. Again hand drums do the bulk of the work but this time amongst the violins and bells is the rhythmic shuffle of a guitar creating a solid framework on which the other instruments can hang themselves. The violin in particular is impressive as its gypsy style wanders through stealing the scene. By the time the song is reaching its conclusion the inspired beats and exotic flow of the instruments conjures up the images of a north African evening under the stars. "Full Circle" explores some bigger themes, that of the journey itself. After years of travelling on a musical and spiritual pilgrimage between such wondrous and holy places, the singer is musing on the journeys of other religious pilgrims who have made the same journeys for their own, not too dissimilar reasons. Accompanied only by Middle Eastern violin type sounds of an instrument that I probably don't know the name of, there are many in her work, it is the voice that carries this song. Always a focal point of here work, here you truly get to appreciate just how amazing her voice is as it is left uninterrupted by music.
One of the obvious places that would feature on a devotional pilgrimage is Santiago de Compostella (St James in the Field of Stars) the supposed resting place of the remains of the saint. This region still retains traces of its pre-roman Celtic roots in its language and music, and here in "Santiago" the music of that tradition and the gypsy themes of Spain are entwined, violins dance above the main song and dark brooding cellos under pin it and all the time a fast percussion and hand clap mix drive the music onwards to end in a breathtaking violin solo play out. Inspired by the poetry of Yeats "The Two Trees" is quintessentially Irish in flavour, opening with the unmistakable sound of the uillean pipes which then give way to haunting violins and piano to create an image of a barren landscape, leafless trees and the calling of the rooks in their rookeries. The album closes with "Prospero's Speech" based on Shakespeare's words and signalling and end to the musical illusion that has been created, the mask comes off and the actor is revealed as a mere player, or here the analogy is that the musical artist is merely a storyteller, a conjurer of images. Again an almost totally vocal affair this song is the artist stripped bare and has never sounded better in vocal terms.
Whether you want music that helps you relax or are looking for something more in depth, its all here. It can wash all those worries of the day away, be used as a wonderful backing track to socialising or if dwelt upon has hidden depths, intriguing questions and spiritual pathways to be explored. Like all of McKennitt's work, it operates on many levels, take from it what you wish, enjoy and bathe in its exotic charm.
Summary: haunting and beautiful music with a spanish and arabic feel to it.