LOREENA McKENNITT "An Ancient Muse" Quinlan Road/Verve

Friday, April 20, 2007

LOREENA McKENNITT"An Ancient Muse"Quinlan Road/Verve

IF TRAVELING INTO the mystic again with Canadian singer-songwriter Loreena McKennitt serving as guide still sounds appealing after all these years, "An Ancient Muse" is your ticket to ride. No need to buckle up, though, for this picturesque trek.

McKennitt's first studio release in nearly a decade, "Muse" is nothing if not a sonic marvel, a large cast production so lush and layered it creates an enveloping, almost album-length aura. It's also testimony to McKennitt's expanding interests, reflecting not just her bedrock Celtic influences but her growing fascination with other musical cultures, from Greek and Spanish to Scandinavian.

How McKennitt, who primarily plays keyboards here, goes about connecting the dots, moving from one source of musical (or spiritual) inspiration to another, is key to the album's considerable charms. The arrangements, meticulously orchestrated and colored by a broad palette of indigenous and frequently exotic instruments, constitute a series of locale portraits inspired by tales of ancient Greece ("Penelope's Song"), the Silk Road ("Kecharitomene"), the age of chivalry ("The English Ladye and the Knight") and modern Turkey ("Sacred Shabbat"), among other themes. Most of the tracks are further distinguished by McKennitt's hauntingly beautiful voice and often enchanting way with a phrase. Seldom, though, do the lyrics rise to the level of McKennitt's vocal performances or match the keen musicianship on display throughout the album. Listening to "An Ancient Muse" is certainly an absorbing experience but rarely an affecting one.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Tuesday at DAR Constitution Hall.

Listen to an audio clip of Loreena McKennitt

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