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An Ancient Muse

4.5 out of 5 stars 349 customer reviews

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Audio CD, November 21, 2006
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

An Ancient Muse is "eclectic celtic" - singer/composer Loreena McKennitt's highly-anticipated first new studio recording in nine years. Taking up where her previous work left off, McKennitt fuses the melodic sensibility of Celtic Balladry with musical traditions from Greece, Turkey, Spain, and beyond. Once heard, never forgotten, Loreena MacKennitt leads the listener on a timeless journey from the Scottish borders to the caravanserais of the Silk Road to the wine-dark seas of Homer's Odyssey. McKennitt's worldwide multi-platinum sales culminated in her most recent album, 1997's The Book of Secrets, which reached #17 on the Billboard Top 200 Chart.

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It's been nearly a decade since Loreena McKennitt's last studio album, The Book of Secrets, but An Ancient Muse picks up the caravan exactly where she left off on her mystical journey through the cultures of the Middle East and northern Sahara. The Canadian singer opens this album the same way as she did her last two recordings: with an incantation, calling out in a wordless voice across an echoing space, cleansing the air and the mind. What follows is a lot like those albums as well, a pan-global excursion centered on Middle Eastern themes and instruments cast into a dramatic exotica. Oud, dumbek, kanoun, hurdy-gurdy, duduk, nyckleharpe (a Swedish-keyed fiddle), and other ancient sounds from the region and beyond ornament her music, though "ornament" might no longer be accurate. With the exception of Hugh Marsh's gypsy violin solos and a handful of other players, it's the Western instruments that serve as ornaments on An Ancient Muse. McKennitt long ago evolved the Celtic sound that launched her career. She's virtually abandoned the harp, which hasn't appeared on her CDs since 1991's The Visit. The lone uillean pipe on "Beneath a Phrygian Sky" sounds like an echo calling from the McKennitt's past. Nevertheless, the Celtic ballad form remains central to her music, and she still draws inspiration from ye olde writers of the British Isles. Lyrics from Sir Walter Scott adorn "The English Ladye and the Knight," recalling "The Lady of Shalott." But despite McKennitt's soaring alto, the tale drags under the dirge-like meter and ponderous arrangement. The epic track of this album is the aforementioned "Beneath a Phrygian Sky," with distorted electric guitar accents and an acoustic guitar melody carrying McKennitt on another journey into her romanticized version of the ancient world. --John Diliberto
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (November 21, 2006)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Verve
  • ASIN: B000J3EEBY
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (349 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #125,037 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Alison Hudson VINE VOICE on November 23, 2006
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
After a decade, it's nice to have a new Loreena McKennitt CD!

... even if it IS perhaps her least innovative work to date. Sorry to say it, but there's much familiar ground covered here. In particular, McKennitt seems to be revisiting musical realms already visited on MASK AND THE MIRROR (M&tM). I don't simply mean in the style or choice of instruments; there are melodies and arrangements here that strongly echo tracks from that album (and other albums of hers).

Even so, the CD is a joy to listen to. I love the thematic thesis for this album--McKennitt as the wandering minstrel, collecting old stories as she strolls through the Mediterranean--and ultimately I like this album better than M&tM. McKennitt is one of those artists whom, even when she produces something imperfect, is still producing something much more beautiful and worthwhile than the majority of artists out there.

Now, hopefully it won't be a decade (or even half a decade) before her next one!
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Format: Audio CD
AN ANCIENT MUSE. Just the title seems to suggest songs celebrating the past. Fans have waited a decade for this album, myself included. Many reviewers will tell you it falls short of expectations or explores no new territory.....in some ways I find I have to agree...

The album opens with the sun illuminating ancient landscapes in "Invocation" an instrumental chant both haunting and beautiful. We walk through "The Gates of Istanbul" starting our journey thru the ruins of the Ottoman Empire and the splendor of modern Turkey. The song is steady and rhythmic and Loreena's voice has the same banshee/angel quality it always had...no disappointment here.

The night finds weary journeymen who have camped for the night at a "Caravanserai"...an inn for the caravans of Asia. She weaves a story of the many adventures and scenery she has seen before stopping to rest...on a journey home. Easily her best song....great live performance can be seen at her website.

Next a tale of Scotland's woe...words by Sir Walter Scott set to an arrangement of music by Loreena...as she sings of the tragic love between "The English Ladye and the Knight". This kind of poetic adaption has been done before by McKennitt...."Snow", "Dark Night of the Soul" and "The Highwayman" to name a few examples. Her voice is strong and emotionally charged.....the most beautiful song on the album.

From here on out....the rest of the album delivers some fine songs. However, they are not as striking as the first four. Disappointed? I'm not...these songs will grow on me...I didn't wait 10 years just to tear apart her new album!! So for now, I can say it is worth buying.

If you like stories of history, tragic love affairs, and poetry...listen to Loreena McKennitt's AN ANCIENT MUSE.
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Format: Audio CD
After the death of her fiance, Loreena McKennitt went into retirement for several years. But when she returned, she came back in a big way -- "An Ancient Muse," a haunting little album filled with Middle-Eastern grandeur and Celtic bittersweet beauty. In other words, McKennitt picked up where she left off, and the years have not dulled the richness of her music.

In a way, the album feels like it follows a day all across Europe and the Middle East. It begins with "Incantation," a slow sunrise of a song filled with murmuring vocals and dark sweeps of strings, before segueing into the lazy half-lit twangs and angles of "The Gates of Istanbul" and the peppy sand-swept ballad of "Caravanserai."

Then McKennitt moves into colder climates with the wistful, string-soaked ballad "The English Ladye and The Knight" (all about a lady in love with a Scottish knight -- cue tragedy), the swirling "Kecharitomene" and the painfully lovely "Penelope's Song." With the final leg of the album, she drifts into the twangy Eastern European flavors of "Sacred Shabbat," the lush twilight tones of "Beneath a Phrygian Sky," and finishing with the soft lulling beauty of "Never-Ending Road (Amhrán Duit)."

"An Ancient Muse" is only nine songs long, but it's one of those albums that feels like a full meal once you've finished it. There are a couple songs that aren't quite brilliant all the time ("Sacred Shabbat" just didn't grab me), but overall McKennit picks up where she left off in the late nineties -- lush multi-instrumental music laced with angelic vocals, flavored with the mystical.
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Format: Audio CD
A beautiful musical blend between East and West.

This could be the shortest description someone could give about this great CD.

I have bought "An Ancient Muse" few days ago as I was told about its musical sound mixture and was not sure what to expect.

Since I have put this CD in my CD player I am having a hard time playing anything else.

Living in Lebanon, The sound of this album reflects very much the oriental musical atmosphere I live in, an oriental blend well mixed with the European; and since this place was occupied once by the Arabs and Crusaders, From Turkey, passing by Lebanon, Jordan and reaching Jerusalem, the album is a perfect feel of this area in every sound aspect.

"An Ancient Muse" is a very relaxing CD. If you like this musical atmosphere, I highly recommend the Soundtrack "Kingdom of Heavens" which delivers the same musical atmosphere of similar historical background.
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