Spun: Lireena McKennitt

An Ancient Muse is Canadian singer Loreena McKennitt’s first studio album in 10 years. Personal tragedy accounts for part of the delay (her fiance died in a 1998 boating accident) and she’s also been busy taking on an offending biography. Another factor is likely the tremendous amount of time it must have taken her to compile the album’s liner notes, a record of her travels in Europe, Asia and the Middle East seeking inspiration. There’s nothing wrong with the notes themselves–at points they’re quite interesting–but often they’re even more interesting than the actual album, and that’s a problem.

An Ancient Muse is much the same in form as that of McKennitt’s past albums: ethereal vocals accompanied by an array of obscure Old World instruments. The tunes are split about evenly between mournful and mellow, but none of them, to put it mildly, could be called catchy. Maybe that’s an unfair standard to hold a musician like McKennitt to, but her past albums had a certain energy lacking on Muse. It’s pleasant background noise, but that’s about it. And while she asks a lot of intriguing questions in the liner notes about history, spirituality and the nature of love, the answers are nowhere to be found in the lyrics, which are often trite and repetitive.

No wonder McKennitt went to court to prevent the publication of a book about her. With her voluminous liner notes, she’s practically written one herself. Too bad anyone who wants to read them will have to pay for the album she tacked on almost as an afterthought.

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