Loreena McKennitt, The Wind That Shakes the Barley (Quinlan Road, 2010)

Like a lot of performers who have become sufficiently well established that they no longer need to prove anything to anyone, Loreena McKennitt has started to take her time putting out new music. Her 2006 album An Ancient Muse came out nine years after its predecessor, The Book of Secrets. Four years after An Ancient Muse, McKennitt has decided to throw her patient fans a bit of a carrot in the form of a mostly traditional album called The Wind That Shakes the Barley. McKennitt's sources of inspiration have become increasingly global over the years, but her sound has always been Celtic at its heart. The Wind That Shakes the Barley is a collection of some of the Irish songs that first led McKennitt into making a life out of music, and the songs are interpreted with the reverence and the quality that anybody familiar with her music would expect.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley does not unearth any rare treasures; instead, McKennitt focuses on songs that will be familiar to anybody with a sizable collection of Irish music. McKennitt has a bit of fun with the first two songs on the album, both of which generally go by the title "As I Roved Out." (The second song, which has been sung by Andy Irvine with Planxty among many other people, is here titled "On a Bright May Morning.") "Down by the Sally Gardens" is certainly an Irish folk standard, and McKennitt gives it a particularly nice rendition here. "The Star of the County Down" will appeal to anybody who knows a "fair colleen." My favorite piece is "Brian Boru's March," the first of two instrumentals, which is played here as a Medieval jig. It's the most exotic-sounding track on the album, though. Otherwise, McKennitt sticks to a basic combination of Celtic and New Age, leaning more on the Celtic side of things. She established her musical career initially by adopting this approach, and here she makes it look easy.

Indeed, the best and worst thing you can say about The Wind That Shakes the Barley is that it sounds so natural that it comes across as almost being effortless. Loreena McKennitt's mastery of Celtic music remains beyond reproach, and there's nothing on this CD that her fans won't like, but she's shown more ambition elsewhere.

Overall grade: B+

reviewed by Scott

a nice photo montage that somebody on YouTube set to "Brian Boru's March"

1 comment:

AnnMarie Tornabene said...

I think this is a very fair review. As a huge Loreena McKennitt fan, I was always drawn more to her mixed Celtic influences than her more traditional Irish music (i.e., Parallel Dreams and Elemental) even if Irish music is a love of mine. My favorite would be the first "As I roved Out"...incidentally, could that first one have been called something else? I know I have heard it before but not titled as such...