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Loreena McKennitt Releases Magical Live Album, ‘Under A Winter’s Moon’

On Nov. 18, Juno Award-winning Canadian artist Loreena McKennitt released a live holiday collection, Under A Winter’s Moon, which marks her 16th album. The magical showcase presents the best of the artist’s concert series held in Knox Church in Stratford, Ontario last year.

“On a handful of winter’s nights close to the solstice of December 2021, my musical friends and I wove this miscellany of music and spoken word,” said McKennitt in the album’s liner notes.

“…I sought to incorporate elements of the oral traditions found in many cultures – to capture, inspire and reconnect us with our past, while offering a reminder of the people of those times and what their manner of communication meant in their lives and might mean still.”

Loreena McKennitt - Photo by Richard Haughton
Loreena McKennitt - Photo by Richard Haughton

Drawing heavily from Celtic tradition, the two-disc album contains 23 seasonal songs performed by McKennitt, with guest appearances by Canadian Indigenous actor and Companion of the Order recipient, Tom Jackson, Gemini Award-winning actor Cedric Smith, and Ojibway artist and flautist Jeffrey Red George. The album was mixed and mastered by multi-award-winning producer Jeff Wolpert at Desert Fish in Toronto.

The collection opens with a reading of “The Sky Woman Story” by Jackson, an Iroquois myth that chronicles the story of the mother goodness who falls to the earth after being cast out from the heavens. To break her fall, nature and all manner of creatures intervene and give her shelter, where she eventually creates a new home on the back of a turtle.

McKennitt’s decision to kick off the concert with “The Sky Woman Story” creation narrative sets the tone for the rest of the album, where mother nature in her untamed beauty takes center stage. Several songs later, McKennitt delivers an enchanting a cappella rendition of “Balulalow” (Cradle Song), carol #181 in the Oxford Book of Carols. The track captures the wonder of Christ’s birth primarily in Middle English, where it is common to encounter terms like “hevin,” “rejoyis,” and “creddil.”

One of my personal favorites on the album, “Dickens’ Dublin,” is a piano-driven track set on the eve of the savior’s birth when “Our Lady and St. Joseph” sought a safe resting place away from the malicious intentions of King Herod. The song juxtaposes the story of the savior’s birth with a present-day journey of someone who seeks to find a place of belonging in Dublin.

“Maybe I can find a place I can call my home / Maybe I can find a home I can call my own,” McKennitt sings in the refrain. Despite the joy and wonder of the season, the holidays are also a time of sadness and loneliness for many. Songs like “Dickens’ Dublin” acknowledge and validate with tenderness the range of emotions that are wrapped up in the holiday season.

Under A Winter’s Moon includes several Western seasonal favorites such as “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” and an instrumental rendition of “In the Bleak Midwinter” as the album’s closer. True to form, McKennitt gives the songs her own majestic treatment. The first track incorporates Middle Eastern styles to a lovely effect.

Interspersed throughout the album in six parts, Cedric Smith reads “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” a nostalgic poem by the late Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. “I could never remember whether it snowed for 6 days and 6 nights when I was 12, or whether it snowed for 12 days and 12 nights when I was 6,” Smith recites.

Later, the poem describes the cruelty of a group of children who would throw snowballs at homeless cats for sport in the winter. The reading offers levity, and listeners hear the live audience chuckling during humorous moments.

The purity of McKennitt’s collection moves listeners to pause and remember the sacredness of the winter season. Amidst the “beauty of the white snow, sparkling like stars on a clear, crisp winter’s night” (Winter Diamonds), the gift of nature and the blessing of time with loved ones eclipse any temptation to commercialize the holiday season.

Under A Winter’s Moon serves as yet another reminder of why Loreena McKennitt remains a musical force since arriving on the scene in 1985. Her eclectic blend of pop, folk, and world music has sold more than 14 million albums worldwide, and her recordings have achieved Gold, Platinum, and multi-Platinum status in 15 countries on four continents.

Go see Loreena McKennitt on her Ontario tour, beginning Dec. 2, where she will re-stage the seasonal concert with its original musicians and narrators in historic sanctuaries throughout the province.

Find Under A Winter’s Moon and more music to get you in the holiday spirit on the Alchemical Records Multigenre Mixture playlist on Spotify and YouTube.

Cynthia Gross

Cynthia Gross is a freelance writer and award-winning spiritual pop artist based in Maryland. With more than a decade of experience as an executive ghostwriter, she understands the power of each individual’s voice to create positive, meaningful change.

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