""The Mask and the Mirror" by Loreena McKennitt was my first introduction to this fascinating artist who blends Celtic and Mid-Eastern traditional music into one excellent whole. Although some may find the juxtaposition startling (supposing that Ms. McKennitt is solely a Celtic artist, perhaps from her other albums "The Visit," "Elemental" and "Parallel Dreams"), others will soon recognize its merit.This album, perhaps more than her others, is especially dancelike. Beginning with "The Mystic's Dream's" quick tempo, to the clogging beat of "The Bonny Swans," from the twirling "Marrakesh Night Market," to "Santiago's" seductive pace, one longs only for a veil and a sense of footwork. Intersperced are beautiful, yearning renderings, such as "The Dark Night of the Soul" and "Prospero's Speech" (her Shakespearean farewell).Naturally, there are those, such as the poor unfortunate beneath me, who will not appreciate her work. But for those looking for excellence and mystery in their normal Celtic fare, consider adding Loreena McKennit to your list of favourite artists. So kick back, close your eyes, and allow your imagination to wander past the mask and through the mirror."
Exotic and beautiful.
Lord Chimp | Monkey World | 08/06/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Mask and Mirror is perhaps Loreena McKennitt's most exotic collection of songs. The arrangements enclose a gamut of conventional Celtic instruments as well as Middle Eastern, Indian, and ancient flavors of the Mediterranean Sea. Although the Celtic element is definitely reduced here, it is in many ways the most instrumentally interesting of all her albums. Plus, her voice is stunning. Her technique is astonishing, and the actual sound of her voice is heavenly.As soon as you press Play and hear the hypnotizing notes opening "The Mystic's Dream," your world melts away to be replaced by the images summoned forth by McKennitt's lush, evocative music. Her own gorgeous, superhuman voice opens, singing wordless notes that are bound to give you chills. Drawing closer to the song's first verse, a ghostly male choir layers McKennitt's voice producing a spellbinding harmony effect. The production is just stunning, and you can see it this early in the album...all mystical echoes and visceral instruments and clarity. McKennitt's voice is yearning and haunting, but beautiful all the same. "The Bonny Swans" is a traditional lyric turned into a peppy tune with cool call-and-response between the electric guitar and fiddle. This song...well, it boogies! Often, McKennitt's music is emotionally heavy and somber, so it's nice that this song is surprisingly fun."The Two Trees," preceded by a lovely pipe intro (which is unfortunately short), is affixed to gorgeous, flowing piano chords that glide upon a layer of solemn strings. McKennitt set Yeats' poem to music with remarkable grace and acuity for the nature of the words, here...it's absolutely wonderful. Her vocal melodies are magical the way they heighten the power of the poetry in some ineffable manner. And even though the song is more than nine minutes, I really wish it'd last longer, because it's so beautiful. The ethnic touches abound on "Marrakesh Night Market," where the instruments and lyrics paint a picture so vivid it's impossible not to see the marketplace. The dashing, lyricless but not vocal-less "Santiago" at once raises a smile with its sprightly folk-dance drive; but the ethnic touches cause one to marvel at McKennitt's ingenuity as a composer. There's some wonderful, spirited fiddle solos on this song. "The Dark Night of the Soul," despite the ominous title, is a romantic song that, as McKennitt explains is the excellent CD booklet (which features bits of journal entries), it's actually a metaphorical song about a man's love for his god. The chorus is very beautiful. "Prospero's Speech" is too short...kind of a missed opportunity, but it's good while it lasts.This review was kind of random in terms of my train of thought and its structure, but I hope I've told you what you want to know (i.e. whether or not this is good stuff). Or just take my word for it when I say the album possesses an exquisite beauty that needs to be heard to be appreciated. Forget reading my fruitless attempts to convey the wondrous quality of these songs...just listen for yourself. I'm sure you'll be impressed."
"All for the love of you..."
Marc Ruby? | Warren, MI USA | 09/10/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is my favorite Loreena Mckennitt album. Although, if pressed, I'm not sure I can provide a convincing explanation of my reasons. Possibly it is because the singer, who already had a loyal and following as a singer in the British folk traditions, shows a surprising flair for experiencing other musical styles and deftly making them her own. Spanish, North African, Islamic, and Judaic come to her and are transformed into even larger concepts and then made into intimate friends.Another factor may be the great intelligence of her choices. McKennitt's own lyrics on this album demonstrate a more than passing familiarity with the Gnostic and mystical and a very clear vision of how to express these ideas in melodic terms. She also is noted for adapting lyrics from various poetic sources, drawing from a delightful spectrum of Writers. In this case, St. John of the Cross, Yeats, and Shakespeare. Each time, she captures something in the doing that most of us might miss in the reading.Finally, of course, there is the musicality of her work. Whether they be rhythmic, pensive, or tender, the melodies and settings distinguish Mckennitt from the crowd. Her work is never simple or gimmicky. This, and a compelling, beautiful voice make The Mask and the Mirror a treat for these tired ears. Whether the album becomes your favorite as well is moot. No one would argue that it is one of her best."
Clarissa | Ontario, California | 10/21/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"If nothing else, buy this solely for The Mystic's Dream. The Murmurs Dance has been her most successful song yet (it even broke mainstream), but this is by far my favorite song by her. It's just so mythical and haunting. Even after three years I can still listen to it and get a musical high. I especially like how the Victoria Scholars choir sings Gregorian style. The song throughout is darkly shrouded and mysterious, but with downtempo dance percussion. And as everyone else seems to think, The Bonny Swans is an incredible song. As in her own words... I am drawn to the harp motif and the essence of a fable in which a girl, drowned by her jealous sister, returns first as a swan and then is transformed into a harp... I personally think that the live version of this song is better - as it's much more lively - but either ways it's enjoyable nonetheless. Oh... and I absolutely relish when the guitar comes in. It's a pity that its part is so short...The Dark Night Of The Soul is a carefully weaved love song with beautifully drawn lyrics... Upon that misty night
In secrecy, beyond such mortal sight
Without a guide or light
Than that which burned so deeply in my heart - is the third track. Then comes the Middle Eastern Marrakesh Night Market with its dance driven drum beats and resounding fiddle playing. And another of my favorites by Loreena McKennitt, Full Circle, comes on next with its slow, religious feel... Santiago - much like the track prior to the one before - is also an uplifting piece of music with drums, cello, synthesizer, fiddle, bass, bouzouki, and countless other instruments (I also like the live version of this better)... The Two Trees is really the only Irish influenced/Celtic song on here with its introduction of Uilleann pipes. The rest is mainly piano and cello... And lastly the short but wonderous Prospero's Speech (derived from The Tempest) ends this astonishing CD with Shakespeare. The Mask and Mirror is all very poetic but this will leave you shaken to the core. I strongly encourage you to buy this."
An evocative and wonderfully mystic album
Clarissa | 05/25/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ms. McKennitt is probably the most talented of the new-age/world-music divas who became so popular in the 80s and 90s. And while she has produced a number of excellent albums during her career, The Mask and Mirror is almost certainly her best work to date. These eight songs strike an ideal balance between the pop music influences that weigh more heavily in her later work and the traditional Celtic roots of her early albums. Also, around the time this album was released she was just beginning to experiment with Middle Eastern tones and rhythms; the fusion between the Celtic stylings and the Middle Eastern instruments is wonderful, certainly the best she has achieved so far.The Mask and Mirror is a brilliant mood piece. It doesn't fit neatly into a particular category or genre, but the melodies are so beautiful that this doesn't seem to matter one whit. There are some albums and some artists who manage to transcend traditional genres... Loreena McKennitt is one of these. The music roams the world but is at the same time both cosmopolitan and thoroughly unified. The variety of instruments is superb, with arrangements that are broad and poetic without ever feeling haphazard. Of course, the best instrument of all is Ms. McKennitt's voice, which soars above and sails through the instrumental arrangements of the songs like the aural embodiment of a visionary spiritual character straight out of her lyrics.There's an evocative feel that permeats the music, hearkening back to somewhere in the middle of the 15th century. The songs are is in many ways extremely literate (or at least literary-- the focus of her influences is sometimes a little narrowly defined). Most people will be familiar with the Shakespeare passages in the last song, "Prospero's Speech." Much more unusual are the beautiful Yeats poem used in "The Two Trees" and also the quotes from the mystic St. John of the Cross's work used as lyrics for "The Dark Night of the Soul." In fact, there's a common mystic strain in all of these literary references, and the album makes a wonderfully appropriate soundtrack for readings in medieval poetry or mythology.And finally, it's not often that the liner notes are as much fun as the music, but the snatches of diary and gorgeous illustrations in the (typically thick) notes that accompany the album are a delight... their pithy and eclectic character makes me suspect that Ms. McKennitt would make an excellent weblogger!"