Under A Winter’s Moon
Loreena McKennitt is no stranger to Christmas/seasonal albums. She has released two studio albums in the past full of Christmas and Holiday cheer. She is also no stranger to recording and releasing live albums. With Under A Winter’s Moon, she successfully combines the two and she has come up with a live seasonal album and it is absolutely brilliant.
In December of 2021, McKennitt performed a number of shows at Knox Presbyterian Church in Stratford, Ontario. The shows, thankfully, were captured, as they were, in a word, stunning. I attended the first of the shows, and was anxious to hear this live recording to see if she would be able to capture the beauty of that night. And she did. Live albums are tricky and do not always work, but this one does. McKennitt has assembled a near perfect live album. The source material helps, but she has mixed a great representation of the show. Interestingly, for these shows, she did not work with her usual live band, but rather different musicians, including Caroline Lavelle on cello and recorders, Graham Hargrove on percussion, Errol Fischer on fiddle, Pete Watson on guitar and 12-string bouzouki, and Cait Watson on Irish whistle. McKennitt sings and plays harp, keyboard and accordion.
Further, she had special guests, including Canadian Indigenous actor and Companion of the Order of Canada recipient, Tom Jackson, Gemini Award-winning actor Cedric Smith, and Ojibway artist and flautist Jeffrey Red George. Jackson got the show started with his reading of the origin story “The Sky Woman Story”. He is basically unaccompanied and one focuses on his voice and story. It is incredible. As with the entire album, you can feel the ambience of the building. This is followed by the acapella “Balulalow”. McKennitt’s vocals are glorious and the backing vocals make this an enlightening listening experience. To be clear, we are only at the second piece in the show. There is incredible music to follow.
This is followed by the seldom heard “Let Us, The Infant Greet”, which McKennitt recorded on her first seasonal album, To Drive The Cold Winter Away. While faithful to that version, here it seems more emotive and expressive. The rest of set one is more traditional in music, with the addition of Jeffrey Red George’s recitation “White Diamonds”. One other highlight is McKennitt’s very own “Dickens’ Dublin”, which is not only a beautiful song, it features a telling of the Nativity like you have never heard. It is beyond words and the live version comes off with such grace and beauty that it was a jaw dropping moment in the show.
The second half of the show is centred around Cedric Smith reciting Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas In Wales, punctuated with music from McKennitt and her band. She performs her own song “Snow” (and this could be the definitive version of that song) but for the most part, the music here is traditional Christmas carols. “Good King Wenceslas”, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”, “In The Bleak Midwinter”, and “The Holly And The Ivy” to name a few. The reading of the classic story/poem and the music makes for riveting listening and very emotional. Hearing this performed live in the church was astounding. And McKennitt has captured this feeling on this album.
This is a great live seasonal album. Under A Winter’s Moon is a brilliant album. Perhaps not one you will want to play at your Holiday party, because really, this is an album that needs to be put on and enjoyed. There is so much to listen to and absorb. It is beautiful, joyful and emotional. Dylan Thomas’s words come alive as does McKennitt’s music. It is an album that McKennitt should be proud.It was a remarkable live experience and it is reflected on this album.
SPILL ALBUM REVIEW: LOREENA McKENNITT – UNDER A WINTER’S MOON