fri 19/07/2024

Album: Loreena McKennitt - The Road Back Home | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Loreena McKennitt - The Road Back Home

Album: Loreena McKennitt - The Road Back Home

The craic is good in Ontario

A beautifully produced set

It was one of those truly memorable evenings – a Royal Albert Hall concert by a someone with a long career (and record sales of 14 million), a woman I’d been introduced to only a few months earlier when a music-loving friend gifted me a CD. Interestingly, she’d been put on to it by a friend in Europe.

So it’s a treat in this cacophonous, unsettling age to have a new album from Loreena McKennitt, a singer-songwriter with her own record label whose numerous honours include two Junos, Canada’s premiere music award, two Grammy nominations, and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society Joseph-Elzéar Bernier Medal. She has performed for the late Queen Elizabeth II and for King Charles. Inducted into the Canadian Songwriter’s Hall of Fame last March, she began her musical life as a busker, in Vancouver, Toronto, London and Dublin – and listening to her, and indeed looking at her, with her blazing red hair, you could be forgiven for assuming she’s Irish.

In fact, she grew up in rural Manitoba, influenced by the 1960s and 1970s revival of interest in the folk music of both Ireland and England. The Bothy Band, Planxty, Steeleye Span and Alan Stivell are cited as influences. But listening to her sing “The Wild Mountain Thyme” you can easily hear the influence of Joan Baez, who sang the song throughout her long career, sometimes in duet with Bob Dylan. The recordings of Mary O’Hara, the Irish singer who gave up on music to retreat into a convent, but remerged to great success in the 1970s, is surely in McKennitt’s collection and, like her she plays the harp. Enya’s name often crops up in discussion of her, but she’s a lightweight.

The Road Back Home is a live album, one of many recorded in such diverse locales as San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts, the Alhambra in Granada – and the Royal Albert Hall. As the title suggests, this one is recorded closer to home to where she felt “called back” – at four Ontario folk festivals in the summer of 2023. A return to her roots, and a homage to simpler times in the company of The Bookends, a Celtic band, and McKennitt’s long-time collaborator Caroline Lavelle, a cellist.

It's a gorgeous, mystical album, McKennitt’s pure voice and harp entwining with penny whistle, bodhrán, accordion, mandolin, banjo and fiddle on such traditional numbers as “Searching for Lambs,” “On a Bright May Morning”, “The Star of County Down” and of course “Sí Bheag, Sí Mhór/Wild Mountain Thyme” which ends the CD as it ended every concert. There are some masterful instrumentals, and the infectious rhythms of “Custom Gap” will surely get you dancing.

A beautifully produced swet which showcases the musicianship of everyone on stage – and the heartfelt singing of the audience on the final number.

Liz Thomson's website

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