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Loreena McKennitt – Under A Winter’s Moon Review

A magical live show of winter carols from different folklore.

What does Loreena McKennitt sound like?

A Celtic and nostalgic fable driven folk from around the world.

The review of Loreena McKennitt – Under A Winter’s Moon

Loreena McKennitt has been dazzling us with her live prowess in the absence of new studio albums. ‘Under A Winter’s Moon’ is a seasonal album that bridges the gap between the two. There are a plethora of songs that have never been performed or recorded before and with Loreena’s inimitable stage presence and performance – the music note and pitch perfect throughout. This is an album where the line between studio and live blurs.

The album is spread across two discs, or acts. Act one begins with an indigenous creation story called ‘Sky Women Story’ by indigenous actor Tom Jackson. It sets the tone for a collection of beautifully rearranged seasonal songs and creates a nostalgic, warming tone for what’s to come. Early highlights include the delicate and mildly haunting ‘The Wexford Carol’ featuring Loreena’s harp and cello. The backing musicians switch across a variety of instruments and the percussion is particularly well-captured and nuanced. Often just a glistening bell or glass ring here or there to add some winter magic to the song. They also provided backing vocals such beauties such as the nearly vocal-only ‘Balulalow’.

picture of Loreena McKennitt
Loreena McKennitt

Elsewhere the instrumental ‘Banquet Hall’ sounds like it walked straight out of an Irish village with its charming whistles and bounce. The charming use of ‘I Saw Three Ships’ as part of a wider Celtic-infused medley is cute too. The show also uses audio recordings such as spoken word passages and horse hooves in the soon-to-be classic ballad ‘Dickens’ Dublin’. What I really appreciated about the musicality of the album is how it effortlessly and seamlessly moves from Celtic to Irish to Indigenous between songs. The music feels global with each area unique and identifiable but cohesive. Act 1 closes with Loreena’s rendition of ‘Huron Carol’ and a gentle wintry cello, bell and vocal rendition of ‘Let All to Are to Mirth Inclined’. It is a powerful vocal performance and shows McKennitt has lost none of her vocal power.

Act 2 brings in readings from actor Cedric Smith, reading passages of ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’. It is a piece spread across six parts and interspersing them is a selection of carols. The spoken passages are delivered with dramatic verve, which gives this release a unique flair. Smith’s readings start out with incidental Celtic music from the band too that fades away into the background. It sounds really cinematic to listen to and really sells the experience as a joined-up one. Flow is important when you flick between music and spoken word and this album flows like the current.

‘Snow’ opens the act with a mystical magic of tuned percussion, cello, harp and voice that draws the listener in and paints a wintery world in your mind. It is definitely a firm favourite of mine but the warm pub vibes of ‘The Holly and the Ivy’ runs it close. My favourite rearrangement of a carol goes to ‘God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen’ though. Somehow Loreena McKennitt has turned it into an Arabian charm with curious recorders and whistles twisting from desert caravan to Irish kitchen fire over an eight-bar refrain. It is inspired and certainly one I have on repeat. ‘Good King Wenceslas’ is a military drum and accordion affair, giving the track a pep to its step, whilst ‘Coventry Carol’ and ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ close out the show in a more melancholy and spiritual mood.

With loads of new songs and some magical rearrangements, ‘Under A Winter’s Moon’ goes far beyond what a seasonal album would usually be described as. It is an album full of warmth, heart and solidarity. The musicians perform exquisitely and you could have heard a pin drop in the recordings. This album is perfect for blanket and duvet moments but act 2 especially also has some rhythm and joy to it too. I was slightly tentative about the spoken word passages but their delivery and integration of them are perfect. Grab a mulled wine and get this one on whilst the winter weather and season persist. It is well worth your time.

Recommended track: Snow

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Loreena McKennitt - Under A Winter's Moon



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