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Music Review: Loreena McKennitt – A Mediterranean Odyssey

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It doesn't happens very often (and too bad for that!), but there are times when you hear a piece of music, a guitar, or a voice for the first time and the whole world seems to drop away for that moment. During the days of radio, this had the tendency to ruin the music obsessive's day: if the timing was just right, a wait of up to an hour or more in the car would be required. Before things like satellite radio, we had to rely on the DJ to back-announce the previous set.

This is exactly what happened to me the first time I heard Loreena McKennitt. During the last few minutes of my morning commute, a local college radio station played her version of "She Moved Through The Fair" from Elemental. Those slightly ominous bells and that angelic voice sent me off to another world, one where informative disc jockeys didn't wait too long to fill in the missing information. Well, the kids from Emerson College radio came through, almost 30 minutes after I had parked my Toyota pickup in my company's parking lot. Hey, they don't actually enumerate all of the 'legal' uses for flex time!

I can't quite remember if I went right out looking for a copy of Elemental that afternoon, but it wouldn't surprise me if I did. When a new sound enters my ear parts in such a manner, I'm driven to alleviate that tension.

Almost 20 years later, I'm brought right back to that moment with the release of A Mediterranean Odyssey. It's not often that I recommend box sets to the neophyte but in this case, McKennitt has produced a spectacular collection that serves to illustrate the scope of her back catalog while shining a bright light on the current state of her career.

Disc 1 is called "The Olive and the Cedar," a collection of studio recordings that go as far back as "Tango To Evora," from 1991's The Visit while drawing material from albums as recent as An Ancient Muse (from 2006). Of course, McKennitt's brilliant 1994 recording The Mask and Mirror is represented with three selections. Taken in total, this collection shows the variety of Mediterranean influences in McKennitt's music. Clearly, she moves in circles far beyond the simplistic category of "Celtic folk." From the searching "Dark Night of the Soul" (such a gorgeous vocal) to the pulsating "Santiago" to the silky "The Gates of Istanbul,' there are a lot of beautiful melodies and textures sure to draw in the uninitiated.

"From Istanbul to Athens" documents McKennitt's 2009 tour through Turkey, Cypress, Lebanon, Greece, Italy, and Hungary. With her very resourceful and supple band, the songs lose nothing from their original forms and instead lift to new heights. The mood is set nicely with the opening, more earthy take on "The Gates Of Istanbul." Coming in at over twice the length of the original, the song builds a beautiful slow burn. The amazing thing is that she can do the same thing with the slower, sparser tunes as well. The set-closing "Full Circle" is just McKennitt's voice, supported by strings. It's a vocal performance that gets to the heart of what the human voice can do — and that is to move us in unexpected ways.

I didn't expect to be moved by a crystalline voice in a parking lot in Bedford, Massachussetts. Hey, sometimes a day takes us to surprising places. On that day, the rest of the world dropped away and Loreena McKennitt's voice took me there.

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About Mark Saleski

  • Mat Brewster

    I’ve nearly had a car crash or two trying to write down the name of a song/artist after the DJ announced them while driving down the road.

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    heh. yeah, clearly i’m not the only one with this problem!

  • Jay

    You should hear her live, after that no CD/DVD will ever be good enough…