08.14.2009

Elemental, Loreena McKennitt

Posted by AJ Harbison at 4:32 pm

I posted back in April about “eclectic Celtic” artist Loreena McKennitt, and after listening to Live Under Lights and Wires for a while and passing it on to my lovely wife, I picked up another of Eleanor’s McKennitt CDs, this time her first recording, Elemental.

Apart from suffering from a really weird cover picture (is she wearing a trenchcoat over a nightgown? Why is the harp standing by itself out in the grass while she’s running away? Is the building behind her a country ruin or her studio?), Elemental is a fine little album. It’s her first recording (from 1985, although I have a remastered version from 2006), and it shows a little, in a few simplistic arrangements and rough edges; but it’s also nice to hear the simpler, more traditional sounds of this record compared to the multilayered, polished tracks of The Book of Secrets. McKennitt’s harp playing features in most of the songs, as well as her voice–also a little rough around the edges and a bit shrill at times, but still haunting and perfectly suited to the Irish ballads she sings. Her guest collaborators are well chosen too: Cedric Smith turns in a very strong performance of the traditional song “Carrighfergus,” while Shakespearean actor Douglas Campbell’s thundering voice is unforgettable as he recites a William Blake poem in the final track “Lullaby.” Apart from “Lullaby” and “The Stolen Child,” with text from a W.B. Yeats poem, all of the tracks are traditional Irish songs “adapted and arranged” by McKennitt.

I still hold that Irish music is good for the soul, and this album is filled with the evocative, longing side of the genre. It’s not McKennitt’s best record, but it still repays a good listen.

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