[sic] Magazine

Loreena McKennit – The Wind That Shakes The Barley’

There has always been a heavy Celtic influence on Loreena McKennit’s music, right back to the beginning of her career. But ‘The Wind That Shakes The Barley’ may be her most Celtic album to date — a collection of nine Celtic folk songs, driven by McKennitt’s powerful voice and some beautiful traditional instrumentation.

It opens with a hearty rendition of ‘As I Roved Out,’ a ballad about a young soldier secretly meeting his lover one night, which is a pretty earthy peppy song for the usually ethereal McKennitt. And in the same tone, there’s the bodhran-tinged melody of ‘The Star of the Country Down,’ and the silvery-edged earthiness of ‘Brian Boru’s March.’

McKennit sounds more at home in the slower songs: the harp melody of ‘On A Bright May Morning,’ the melancholy afternoon ballad ‘Down By The Sally Gardens,’ the tragic string-laden title ballad, the melancholy wobbles of ‘The Death of Queen Jane,’ and the languid instrumental ‘The Immigration Tunes.’

Best moment in the album: the fairylike shimmers of the final song, ‘The Parting Glass’ (complete with McKennitt’s whispered, “… that I should rise/and you should not/I’ll gently rise and softly call/Good night and joy be with you all” ).

‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’ is a pretty good glimpse of Celtic music as a whole — there are peppy songs about pretty girls and Irish lads falling in love, but underneath the surface there is blood, tragedy and powerful emotions. It makes you think of early mornings in the forest, cloudy skies and a gentle rain on green fields that stretch out to the sea.

Unlike in McKennitt’s other albums, there isn’t any Middle-Eastern or Mediterranean influence in these songs. It also feels sparer and less lush than her previous work, turning it into a purely Celtic sound. Instead you have an earthy tapestry of fiddles, guitars, pipes, bells and the dull thuds of the bodhran, as well as her omnipresent rippling harp.

My one problem with this album? The peppier songs. I like ‘As I Roved Out’ and ‘The Star of the County Down,’ but they’re too simple and chipper for McKennitt’s powerful, haunting vocals — it always sounds like she’s dying to just burst out, but doesn’t because the songs don’t call for it. Fortunately, the slower, sadder songs fit her beautifully.

‘The Wind Shakes The Barley’ has a couple of songs that fit McKennit like a three-fingered glove, but otherwise it’s an exquisite, haunting tribute to Celtic music.