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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Loreena McKennit

An Ancient Muse

Review by Gary Hill

OK, maybe this isn't actually progressive rock, but it seems as close a fit as any genre. Traditional olde worlde tones are brought to live in vibrant, contemporary arrangements on this disc. This is gentle, yet powerful music that should probably appeal to most prog fans. I'd never actually heard McKennitt's music before, but her legend had preceded her. She lives up to the hype. This stuff is similar to Clannad or Enya, but more powerful and authentic in its delivery. Fans of new age music will certainly enjoy this, but that audience is certainly not the only one who can appreciate it. While this may not be moogs and rapid timing changes, it is creative and potent and would definitely entertain fans of Renaissance and the like.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Incantation
Mysterious ambient tones lead this off. McKennitt's vocals come over this in an operatic sort of mode to complete the mood. This builds gradually with classical elements in the musical motif.
The Gates of Istanbul
Sedate sounds begin this, but the cut shifts into something that has an acoustic world music tone as it carries onward. As the title would suggest, this has Eastern tones to its musical stylings. It's quite a pretty piece of music packed with mystery and majesty. It's almost twenty minutes in before McKennitt's vocals enter to finish off the picture. I like this piece a lot.
Caravanserai
As the ambient tones that begin this are joined by other instrumentation the mood is rather like a combination of gypsy sounds and minstrel music. The drama and mystery of the arrangement is incredible. Lines of melody build on each other in slow and gentle ways to create the tapestry of sound here. McKennitt's wisp-like vocals bring in a very traditional minstrel sound. They build this one up in fine fashion and it's one of the highlights of the disc. The music becomes quite involved and energized as this reaches its full fruition.
The English Ladye and The Knight
More textural modes start this off in dramatic ways. Angelic voices join the party, bringing with them a more full sound. While this musical theme does get more complete as it carries forward, the overall order of the day here is gentle and pretty.
Kecharitomene
This bouncy piece has a very traditional olde worlde sound. It's another winner, but, then again there are no slouches here – this is a classy production. This instrumental gets extremely powerful when they pump up the volume and intensity later.
Penelope's Song
As this enters we are back into more gentle territory. This is a pretty balladic number with definite olde worlde textures. It's one of the prettiest and most evocative on show.
Sacred Shabbat
Celtic and Eastern tones seem to merge on this traditional acoustic number. It's quite dramatic and powerful. This is another instrumental.
Beneath a Phrygian Sky
This cut is beautiful and powerful. Ballad-like, I'd say that it conveys emotion better than anything else on the disc. It also is one of the most catchy pieces on show here. OK, you've probably figured out by now, this is my favorite track in the set. It's purely amazing and comes the closest to true “rock” music of anything here. This one alone is worth the ticket price.
Never-Ending Road (Amhran Duit)
Another pretty piece of music, this one is good, but it would be hard for anything to compete with the track that came before. Still, its gentle tones and moods serve as a nice conclusion to the disc.
 
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