Muruch is curating a nonprofit, digital album of music, spoken word poetry and art to benefit RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network organization and National Sexual Assault helpline founded by singer Tori Amos.
Loreena McKennitt’s albums are often unfairly relegated to the “New Age” category alongside Irish artists like Enya and Clannad. Yet the truth is that McKennitt is Canadian and her style is an enchanting brand of ambient, multi-cultural folk music. With her latest release, The Wind That Shakes The Barley, Loreena returns to the traditional Irish and Scottish music that was the halmark of her early career. The album finds cellist and kindred musical spirit Caroline Lavelle and several other skilled guest musicians accompanying Loreena’s singular voice on timeless, traditional Celtic classics.
The album begins with a stunner. Loreena’s robust and inflective voice is perfectly suited to the jaunty traditional tune “As I Roved Out.”
The entire album is brimming with a heady mix of Celtic and folk instrumentation: from the deep thump of bodhrán merrily mingling with Caroline Lavelle’s cello in the opener and the lilting dance of Celtic bouzouki, bells, whistles, Uilleann pipes and button accordion in the quintessential Irish tune “The Star of County Down” to Loreena’s delicate harp strum melting with mandolin in the acoustic melody “On a Bright May Morning.”
Loreena’s exploration of the deeper, more somber tone of her lower register enhances the old-fashioned style of the album, calling to mind Van Morrison’s collaboration with The Chieftains. The instrumental “Brian Boru’s March” floats with the gentle lark call of a Medieval waltz.
Loreena’s supernatural soprano is on gorgeous display in “Down by the Sally Gardens,” a song with words by W.B. Yeats. The exquisite ballad is the standout in this extraordinary collection and Loreena’s voice has never sounded more lovely.
While Dead Can Dance’s chilling rendition of “The Wind That Shakes The Barley” remains the definitive version of the mournful Irish ballad, Loreena’s emotive and sparse title track cover is a very close second.
The Wind That Shakes The Barley is Loreena McKennitt’s most beautiful and substantial work since 1991’s The Visit.
“Gently Johnny” opens the album, while an extended version of the song serves as the finale. Caroline modernizes the classic tune with a softly seductive string and electric guitar arrangement featuring The Scottish Festival Orchestra. The gentler “Innocence Sleeping” is an eerily quiet lullaby with words from poet Brian Patten.
It’s the almost a capella rendition of the traditional “Banks of the Nile” that truly grabs the attention with only the faintest trace of instrumentation under Caroline’s warm vocals. The tempo finally picks up a bit with Lavelle’s enchanting original “No More Words”, which seems to stir elements of a merry old Irish jig into a Medieval folk style.
The changing seasons of Caroline’s voice beautify the simpler melodies of “Too Late” and the traditional “The Trees They Do Grow High”. Lavelle shows off her cello talent on the haunting instrumental “Farewell To Music”. Other tracks are pretty and mellow, but don’t seem to have enough life in them to really stand out.
Caroline Lavelle – No More Words (mp3 expired)
Lavelle’s music is often classified as either Celtic or New Age, or both. It definitely has elements from those genres, but her music holds a depth and intense, almost trip-hop beat that is absent from other Celtic/New Age acts like Enya and Clannad. This is most likely due to the influence of William Orbit, who worked on many of the songs on the album. Caroline also has a powerfully deep, rich voice that reminds me a little of PJ Harvey. In fact, back when I first heard her on World Cafe, I thought she was PJ Harvey until she introduced herself.
Spirit features traditional Celtic songs like “Moorlough Shore”, as well as a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” reworked for what is simultaneously a modern and ancient sound. The album also has several original songs written by Lavelle and William Orbit, like “Dream of Picasso” (written, as I recall, after a dream she had of a recently departed friend).
In addition to her solo work, Caroline is an accomplished cello player who has collaborated with bands like The Pogues and The Chieftains. I saw her perform with The Chieftains and Allison Moorer a few years ago, and her voice is even more captivating live.