May 7, 2018 Loreena McKennitt – Lost Souls (Album Review)
Canadian Singer-Songwriter Loreena McKennitt has been dazzling the devotees of a host of musical styles for over thirty years. With her breathtaking synthesis of Celtic, Folk, and World music, the multi-instrumentalist has enthralled fans to the tune of record sales exceeding 14 million units and numerous honors, accolades, and international tours. On Friday, May 11, 2018, she will release Lost Souls, via Quinlan Road, her first full album of original material since 2006’s An Ancient Muse, and her 10th overall studio album.
Taking inspiration from poets W.B. Yeats and John Keats, among others, the work of McKennitt on Lost Souls is a most welcome return for her ardent fan base. Once more utilizing the talents of a multitude of musicians, all of whom are proficient in instruments as rich and exotic as nyckelharpa, Flamenco guitar, lyra, oud, and the hurdy gurdy, fans will also recognize the work of longtime collaborators Caroline Lavelle on the cello, Hugh Marsh on violin, Brian Hughes on guitar, and Dudley Phillips on bass guitar.
Known for combining flavors of Middle Eastern music into her blend of Celtic Folk, McKennitt – who is heavily influenced by her Irish and Scottish heritage – is best described as a teller of tales through her music. In the case of the title track, which appears at the end of the album, heart rending cello, piano, and violin combine to lay the foundation of her lovely, soothing voice as it spins a tale inspired by Ronald Wright’s book A Short History of Progress. As with some of her best loved works of old, the gentle ebb of the instruments bestir the listener’s heart, while McKennitt’s breathy voice rises and falls in effortless harmony.
The uplifting melodies in “A Hundred Wishes” feature the clear-picked melancholy of acoustic guitar along side McKennitt’s piano playing. No element of the mix overpowers any other, resulting in a flawless listen that allows immersion into its creator’s world. Her recollections of travels abroad are difficult to remain immune to; the swelling instrumentals and her emotive voice burrow a nostalgic path right into the heart.
The cello opening of “Ages Past, Ages Hence” prefaces this poetic ode, McKennitt’s jaunty vocal lines rapidly put forth, in tune with a Waltz-like cadence. Through such means, she weaves a conduit into another time, her delivery as dreamy as it is sharp and skillful. The climactic resonance around the 3:30 mark ties the song together, before some backing vocal lines evoke the “ye olde faire” feeling to the song. It is most certainly a highlight and an example of the precision with which McKennitt wields her voice.
On Lost Souls, Loreena McKennitt has grasped a highly successful cornucopia of sounds and combined them in such a way as to maximize each song’s emotional weight. To call the album formulaic would be less accurate than to say that the veteran songstress understands her fans and knows the way to their hearts. “The Ballad of the Fox Hunter” is another song held aloft by cello, piano, and violin, the wind keeping it afloat on course with the somber lines of the story being told.
The epic, martial “Breaking of the Sword” sums up a record that shall stand up as a success when held against the grace and beauty of McKennitt’s musical canon. Choral vocal accompaniment only adds to the grandeur of this bit of bardic fare. Flaring towards its conclusion into a cinematic tide of emotional release, it is difficult to listen to this song and remain unmoved.
Loreena McKennitt continues to etch her name into the bedrock of Folk, New Age, and World music, having honed her craft across the years to marry her broad range of influences into a satisfying, congruent whole. For these reasons, CrypticRock gives Lost Souls 4.5 out of 5 stars.