Review by: Markus Pilskog
Album assigned by: Red Heylin
Loreena McKennitt is a name I have seen around a few times on the internet, though have never been exposed to her music, and were therefore quite surprised to see that she had sold more than 14 million records. I initially believed that she was a new age artist in the vein of Enya, after having heard this album, she seems much closer to traditional folk music, though with a heavy leaning on the Celtic type, but with some other elements as well. My exposition to celtic folk music is not large (mostly some crossover like Mike Oldfield and Alan Stivell), though the style feels quite familiar anyway.
While this album was released in 2008, five of the songs were included in the 1995 EP “A Winter Garden: Five Songs for the Season”. Most of the songs seem to be traditional Christmas carols or songs about winter of British or Irish origin, though a few of the songs have newly composed music by McKennitt herself. Coming from a slightly different Christmas tradition, most of these carols are new for me, which is only a positive.
The album, while based on various folk genres are musically quite varied. While the opener “The Holly and the Ivy” is almost completely dominated by McKennitt’s beautiful and mournful voice, only backed by a some drony strings, it is followed up by a joyful instrumental number that seems to be made for some village dance. Songs like Noel Nouvelet and God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen reminds us were Jesus was born after all, with its Middle Eastern vibe (reminds me a bit of Sufi music, though that may be a case of limited exposure).
While the centerpiece of the music is McKennitt’s quite expressive and resonant voice, the instrumental arrangements (completely acoustic) are well done and generally fit the various styles. The harp (done by McKennitt herself) is quite prominent, though we also hear a hurdy-gurdy on “Seeds of Love” and the strings are varied between synthesizer-like coating and taking the lead and on the aforementioned “Sufi-songs”, the percussion is put more to the forefront.
While I find it difficult to talk much about the songs in particular, the album is generally enjoyable, the songs are done quite tastefully and parts of the album are downright beautiful. It helps that the songs haven’t been played to death during this December, and I probably wouldn’t have bothered listening to this outside the season, but it’s a Christmas album that I would consider playing next Christmas instead of the usual suspects others put on, and that’s really the best compliment such an album could get.