Squawk Radio

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Liz Brings You a Little (Musical) Romance

Originally uploaded by EliBev.
One of my most vivid memories of elementary school is sitting in Miss Combs’s fourth grade language arts class listening to a recording of a Big Voiced British Actor reading Alfred Noyes’s poem, “The Highwayman.” It wasn’t the first time I’d ever heard poetry read aloud, of course, nor was it even the first time I’d heard a Big Voiced British Actor. So it must have been the poem itself that sent shivers down my spine that day. Especially since it still has the same effect on me now.

On her album, “The Book of Secrets,” Canadian singer/composer Loreena McKennitt (who refers to her music on her web site as “eclectic Celtic”) has taken the already chilling and haunting poem one step further, by setting it to chilling and haunting music. What results is a composition whose lyrics should be over-the-top melodramatic but is instead a staggeringly beautiful bit of song that can move the listener to tears.

But then, the whole album is staggeringly beautiful. For this collection, McKennitt says she was inspired by everything from “ancient Byzantium to a puppet-maker's theatre in Sicily [to] the rocky island of Skellig Michael once inhabited by Irish monks in the Dark Ages to Venice and the journeys of Marco Polo...to the thunder of hooves across the Caucasus and the echoes of Dante’ s words found, unexpectedly, in a train journey across Siberia.”

Indeed. Listening to “The Book of Secrets,” one is transported to all these places and times. There is SUCH a strong sense of both place and time in McKennitt’s incredibly evocative music. Her voice is a fascinating contradiction of fragility and strength, something that only adds to the singular sense of otherworldliness. And the instruments on the selections sound as if they are genuine products of the worlds that inspired the music, adding to the mystique.

I think the majority of people who read romance novels have probably already discovered Loreena McKennitt, since the music she creates is so unabashedly romantic--in the historical, traditional AND contemporary definitions of the word. But on the outside chance that there’s a Squawk Radio visitor who HASN’T discovered her, I think “The Book of Secrets” is a very good place to start. It has everything we romance readers have come to love--noble heroism, deep emotion and stark raving beauty of its music/prose.
Elizabeth Bevarly, 12:17 PM