Loreena McKennitt stays forever timeless. Her aural voice and melodic Celtic infused beautiful arrangements are always a joy to listen to. For her latest album”The Wind That Shakes the Barley” McKennitt moves away from the more eastern tinges of her last album and heads back towards the Celtic side of things.
“As I Roved Out” is a joyous romp with finger taps and a general feeling of a pub jaunt. It’s main melody is infectious and its a bouncy start to what is generally a very quiet album. All the Celtic trimmings are out in force and it’s sure to be on repeat.
“On a Bright May Morning” is beautifully understated. Acoustic guitar is underpinned with quiet strings and Loreena generally stays hushed for most of the song. It’s simplistic but that itself makes it memorable. Most of the songs on the album have a tint of sadness to them, or humbleness and here it’s pitched perfectly.
“Brian Brou’s March” is a beautiful harp lead track that is as etheral as it is warming and is a perfect partner for the equally adorable “Down by the Sally Gardens” which is a real tippy toe ballad. The two just flow effortlessly together, feeling rather wintery but still with a warm glass of mulled wine to them.
“The Star of the County Down” is the second uptempo track with percussion in and is complete with pipes, guitars and fast olde lyrics. What is most apparent by this point is that Loreena is playing to her Celtic strenths. Nothing here is breaking new ground but when you’re the master of a style to such a powerful degree, do you really need to?
“The Wind That Shakes the Barley” is really the most abstract and adventerous track on the album. The song is an atmospheric piece for the most part with just ambient buzzing and small plucks to signal a few chords while Loreena’s vocals soar through the traditional piece. The second half progresses the music a bit but the whole song remains cold and distant, a contrast to the rest of the songs. Excellent. “The Death of Queen Jane” continues the theme of loss that runs throughout the album with a delicate Irish ballad.
“The Emigration Tunes” is a wonderful instrumental that interplays strings, guitars and pipes in repeated melodies. The whole track sounds quite epic although it doesn’t really get into full swing at any one time, it just has that grande sense about it with is production and melodies. All the different instrument changes to take the lead voice is inspired and keeps the track fresh and evolving from start to end. The final track “The Parting Glass” is astonishingly beautiful. Starting off with string dissonance before Lorenna’s vocals glaze over the top, eventually acoustic guitar joins for a very simple and pure track. Loreena’s voice quivers and pauses with every nuance and you could hear a pin drop every time I’ve play it. A haunting yet beautiful end to a humble album.
“The Wind That Shakes the Barley” is McKennitt by numbers. That may sound a bit flat but in essence that means an absolutely steller album of exactly the same time of music you’ve come to know and love from her. For once it’s actually the sparse songs that actually come to the fore for me but anyone who enjoys Celtic flavoured music would have a ball here.