"I have long considered the creative impulse to be a visit — a thing of grace, not commanded or owned so much as awaited, prepared for. A thing, also, of mystery. . . .This recording explores some of that mystery," Loreena McKinnitt writes in her notes that accompany the CD The Visit.
Canadian harper McKennitt is possessed of an unearthly singing voice that seems to emanate from the Otherworld. Listening to her sing is like standing in a sacred grove and hearing her voice rise through the cracks between the worlds.
Her instrument, the Celtic harp, plays yin to the yang of the Indian sitar and tamboura, as well as the balalaika and uillean pipes. This particular album is quite different from her previous collections. This is not a sweet album; it has an edge to it that the others lack. It sets my swaying and moving to the first strains of the first song; it's my current favorite for trance dancing.
The first song, "All Soul's Night," should be listened to in the dead of night to flickering candles. "I can see the lights in the distance / Trembling in the dark cloak of night / Candles and lanterns are dancing, dancing / A waltz on All Soul's Night." She moves on to the lament "Bonny Portmore," pointing out that the destruction of old growth forests started in Ireland centuries ago. Her version of "Greensleeves" is unlike any I've ever heard — sung in an eerie, gravelly voice (as if, she writes, Tom Waits were singing it), it's a true lament for lost love. Very Five of Cups.
I have a mixed reaction to the eleven-minute version of Tennyson's poem "The Lady of Shalott." I respond to it in much the same way that I respond to many images of Pre-Raphaelite art. (The Pre-Raphaelites loved the Lady of Shalott; she was painted by Waterhouse, Holman Hunt and Rossetti, among others. Those Victorian men were quite enamored of the "tragic" image of the woman who is punished for daring to break her bonds.) I love how the music and imagery of the poem transport me — just like the artwork does — and am enraged at the same time by the message that it celebrates: the death of an "uppity" woman. Perhaps McKennitt finds an-
other message here that I'm missing; or perhaps she, like me, is drawn in by the beauty and mystery of the imagery.
The album contains two instrumental pieces that are wonderfully evocative, including "Tango to Evora," which is heard on the soundtrack of Donna Read's film about witchcraft, The Burning Times. The album ends with "Cymbeline," from the play of the same name. "Here are Will Shakespeare's thoughts on this earthly Visit," McKinnitt writes. "All lovers young, all lovers must / Consign to thee and come to dust."
Let this album be your Samhaintide gift to yourself.
~review by Joanna Colbert
Artist: Loreena McKennitt