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4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
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on June 30, 2009
Over 400 reviews on this cd and the average is 5 stars out of 5? Does that tell you how good a cd this is? You bet. I like all of Loreena's work and this one is a favourite. Especially "Dante's Prayer" which uses the St. Petersburg Chamber Choir singing the beautiful and haunting "Alleluia Behold The Bridegroom" as an intro and ending, with Loreena's wonderful music and lyrics in between. She does not churn out cd's like some artists do and it shows in the quality of work she does. Each song is well thought out, arranged and produced, like she is writing a novel and condensing it into five to ten minute short stories. Correct me if I am wrong, but her next album took almost ten years to come out. (With a live album in between.) Which was highly anticipated and did not disappoint. Her ideas come from her experiences and not from some label rep demanding a top ten single. Keep it real Loreena.
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on March 8, 2004
The Book of Secrets was the first Loreena McKennitt CD I ever purchased, and it remains my favorite of those I own. Her music combines elements of Celtic folk tradition with other cultural influences (Middle Eastern, etc.) as well as her own original innovations. McKennitt is also blessed with one of the most beautiful, rich singing voices I have ever heard. Her vocals vary from haunting to lulling, and she can convey an amazing depth of emotion. It is plain that the songs are all very meaningful to her, which makes them even more wonderful to listen to. She truly pours her heart and soul into her music.
The songs themselves are both touching an inspirational. The CD insert gives some information on the background for the pieces (lyrics are also included), but this album has heightened my interest in learning more of the historical context. The songs are arranged nicely, mellow tracks alternating with more lively ones. 'Prologue,' 'Skellig,' 'La Serenissima' (instrumental) and 'Dante's Prayer' are very smooth and soothing, while 'The Mummer's Dance,' 'Marco Polo' and 'Night Ride Across the Caucasus' are more up-beat and energetic.
My favorite track is 'The Highwayman,' based on a poem by Alfred Noyes (it is also the longest track on the CD, clocking in at 10:16 minutes). It is the tragic story of the romance between a highwayman (outlaw) and the daughter of an inn-keeper. Bess, 'the landlord's black-eyed daughter,' is expecting a rendezvous with her sweetheart. But when the King's troops show up at the inn and take her hostage, she knows she must find a way to warn her lover to turn back, that it is not safe. They have tied her with 'a musket beneath her breast,' and her only hope for the highwayman is to warn him with a gunshot - one that will kill her. Thus the highwayman escapes, but when he learns that Bess is dead, he rides back in a fury to avenge her, only to be shot down and killed himself. The story is incredibly sad and poignant, and McKennitt's haunting tones send tingles up my spine. I also recommend looking up the original poem, as a few verses have been left out of the song.
This is an beautiful album, and is among my favorites out of my entire collection. I listen to it all the time, and the songs linger in my head long after. Whether you are already a Loreena McKennitt fan, or simply enjoy Celtic / folk type music and are looking for something new (though you may have heard 'The Mummer's Dance' on the radio - it was rather widely played for a while), 'The Book of Secrets' is a sure winner. It is also a great gift idea. I recommend it most highly.
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on November 30, 2003
There was one track of hers on a Celtic Chillout collection. It was The Mummers' Dance, an extraordinary track, and on the strength of that, I bought The Book Of Secrets. What a find - the whole album is extraordinary.
There is so much to write about this album that if I tried to express everything I wanted to say, I would lose myself in an ever-decreasing spiral. Let's just say that Ms McKennitt has a very beautiful and original voice, the subjects of her compositions are varied to say the least - you seem to be taken on a mystical journey, a bit like reading Lord Of The Rings in a day. However, there are lots of influences which show themselves in the lyrics and the melodies; the musicianship is truly masterful and she has produced a near-perfect album.
One reviewer of her music suggested that it should be experienced whilst having sex. I think I would rather pay attention to her first and keep my partner waiting .....!
This is an exemplary album and a good way to get into Ms McKennitts brand of Celtic music - as I have. One can only wonder why it has taken me so long to find out about her.
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on November 28, 2003
Wow! Blown away by this recording, a technological masterpiece, in that the music presented sounds like it is being performed (mind you a virtuoso performance) on simple ancient Celtic instruments. In fact a couple of the tracks sound very Middle Eastern inspired or Indian in origin; such as the "Prologue," and "Marco Polo." Yet some of my favorite tracks, "The Mummers' Dance," sound very Celtic in their rhythm and vocalizations. This song was originally inspired by a Mummers' troupe who went aboard a stranded ship in Newfoundland to entertain the crew. This song has it's roots in ancient Celtic rites of Spring coinciding with traditional folk celebrations of May Day in Southern England. The track, "Skellig," for instance, although written in Tuscanny, was inspired by the Irish monks who were credited with the "saving of civilization," in the Dark Ages. Sequestered on the Skellig Islands off the coast of western Ireland these monks kept alive some of the finast examples of sacred literature while making real world comments in the margins of many of these texts. "The Highwayman" is a piece bourne out of Elizabethan legend and one fully expects to have that happy Hollywood ending if following along with the lyrics. Be prepared for several twists and turns! Many more intriguing liner notes explain the songs and lyrical development further. My favorite piece on the recording is, "Dante's Prayer," almost an ancient Celtic lamentation which features lyrics that cry out to an unseen force/lover, to please, "Remember me." What makes this recording so incredible is that Loreena McKennitt has composed all the music and written 98% of all the lyrics! From a different time and age, a view to a rich tapestry of imagery! This is a must have recording for fans of Celtic inspired and World music genre's.
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I refer not only to voice quality, but to the material that that voice sings. Loreena McKennit's "Book of Secrets" is an auditory treasure, a lush collection of songs that conjure up incense, velvet drapes, medieval castles and exotic lands. Written as a result of the wanderlust that took her across the world, her "mosaic" is a musical treasure.
The prologue is a hint of what's to come, with eerie, drum-accented music and soft singing (nothing more complicated than "la" and "na"). "The Mummer's Dance" is a haunting, almost mystical trip: "Who will go down to the shady groves/and summon the shadows there." Then we lapse into the steady melancholy of a monastary in "Skellig," where we hear a lament of many years and of endings ("the daylight is almost gone/the birds have sung their last/the bells call all to Mass").
"Marco Polo" is an exotic instrumental interwoven with a Sufi melody. Then we go into the realm of poetry, where the tragic poem "The Highwayman," about a bandit and his doomed sweetheart, set to rising music. "La Serendissima" is a steadier, less sad melody. "Night Ride Across the Caucasus" is reminiscent of "Dance," because of its hauntingly surreal imagery. And "Dante's Prayer" is a surefire way to stir your tears, with the funereal music and unspeakably sad chorus: "Cast your eyes to the ocean/cast your soul to the sea/when the dark night seems endless/please remember me."
Loreena McKennit's music has a depth that many other singers like Enya and Charlotte Church lack; there's a feeling of weight and history, which is only made greater by her use of material like "Danyte's Prayer." Part of her skill is in taking various bits that she acquired across Asia, the Middle-East and Europe, and weaving them together into a tapestry of sound. Violins, drums, mandolins, mandolas, pianos and cellos are included in the music (there are apparently electric guitars as well, but I can't figure out where they are).
My main complaint with this album? It's too short! There are only eight songs, and while the richness of them is overwhelming, I was left hungry for more. Nevertheless, those who are searching for something intriguing and archaic-feeling should listen to "Book of Secrets." You will come away with the song of angels in your mind.
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on February 2, 2003
Who would not want to read a book of secrets...Except, this is one you listen to.
"The journey not the destination, becomes a source of wonder."
Loreena McKennitt spent a few years thinking about Celtic nomadic ways. She wondered if this need arose from an insatiable curiosity. She set off to travel to Rome and ended up in Istanbul. She set off for Japan and ended up on a train across Siberia. The CD booklet, is interesting to read as you listen and reveals her sources of inspiration. Of course after reading the booklet, you might feel compelled to go off on your own journey
The songs on this album are all a reflection of Loreena's knowledge of the world. She seems to be seeking, exploring possibilities and expressing what she has captured.
1. Prologue - inspired by "From The Holy Mountain" by William Dalrymple. There is a certain emptiness and remorse woven into this piece. Maybe a longing for what could have been. You can almost imagine monks traveling from monastery to monastery to collect ancient wisdom.
2. The Mummers' Dance - Loreena incorporated the chorus of a traditional mumming song and her words take on new meaning when you realize that mumming involves a group of performers who dress up in masks and clothes bedecked with ribbons and carrying branches of greenery. This "mumming" has its roots in tree worshiping, which will make you consider why you bring a tree in at Christmas time, at least it is worth considering. Although I think people are more interested in worshipping materialism at the malls.
3. Skellig - this song becomes almost hypnotic as it seems to spin in circles or maybe it is more like the flicker of a candle that grows brighter as you approach it on a dark night.
4. Marco Polo - Loreena has interwoven an authentic Sulfi melody at the beginning and middle of this piece. It is rather intoxicating.
5. The Highwayman - friends suggested setting Alfred Noyes' poem "The Highwayman" to music. While in the studio, Loreena imagined the sound of horses galloping down a moonlit lane. Best to listen to this song while reading the lyrics, which are included and paint a tragic tale even more dramatically in song.

6. La Serenissima - Delicate and haunting.
7. Night Ride Across the Caucasus - the notes explain how people are affected by music and either hear the spiritual meaning or the material sound.
"In the velvet of the darkness
By the silhouette of silent trees
They are watching, they are waiting
They are witnessing life's mysteries."
8. Dante's Prayer - inspired by Dante's The Divine Comedy (a vernacular poem in 100 cantos), Loreena thinks about the human condition and how we all want to believe there is a place better than our own. An almost sorrowful and yet hopeful melody. Italian poet, Dante (1265-1321) gave an explanation of what happens after we die and this question is still just as controversial today.
Perhaps she was inspired by: "Temo di perder viver tra coloro, che questo tempo chiameranno Antico." (I fear I will lose life among those who will call this time ancient." She sings "Please remember me." She also speaks of "Beyond the ice and the fire." The innermost pit of hell is for Dante, ice. The dark woods implies the present state of mankind and when you think about this while listening, the words suddenly become more meaningful.
I found this CD to be an expression of continuing knowledge. Knowledge from the past flows through Loreena McKennitt's consciousness and turns into music. It is an evolution of travel and contemplation. Through her experiences, music evolves into moments of pure beauty.
Inspirational and Deeply Calming.
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on November 30, 2002
Loreena McKennitt continues to display her mastery in combining musical elements from different cultures to come up with seamless, heady compositions that are uniquely her own. "The Mummers' Dance" and "The Highwayman" are standouts. McKennitt's breathy, understated vocals never overshadow the richness of the instrumental arrangements beneath them, the sound of her voice becoming just one more instrument in a swirl of plaintive laments and passionate fire. Words seem inadequate to describe this kind of music, a product of such lushly creative imagination that it is difficult to conceptualize if you haven't actually heard it. So go find a link to click on, and listen. And once you've heard, you'll understand, and the words won't matter. McKennitt's prolific and innovative work to date has been truly seminal, bringing inspiration to a planet-full of listeners and opening new vistas in world music. It's been six years now since she has released an album of new material, and I understand she's endured some difficult times in the interim. Loreena, you've already accomplished more in one lifetime than most of us could in many. But if you find more music in your heart, whether similar to your past work or different, we would be graced and honored should you choose to share your visions with us once again. Blessed be.
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on October 22, 2002
Time was suspended. The air was electric with excitement and the threat of raindrops. The atmosphere this overcast Sunday morning in October 2002 was magical and transported all gathered there to a medieval time and place. The Raleigh Rose Garden had been transformed into a Celtic glade with colorful banners around the circular fountain filled with umbrella palms and water lilies. The Roses were abloom and their scent enchanting. The bell was rung three times to signal the beginning of the ceremony. The guests were welcomed and the bridegroom and his groomsmen entered from four directions. Celtic music swelled (The Mummer's Dance by Loreena McKennitt) and expanded, uplifting all spirits watching in awe as the bride and her father slowly and majestically swept down the white canvas-covered aisle. Tears seeped from the eyes of the groom as he watched his bride come forth. The bride, beautiful in an ordinary way, became a raving beauty in her full flowing beaded gown and ring of multi-colored flowers encircling her head. With their hands clasped together forming the symbol of infinity their hands were bound with a red cord representing the sacred bond of marriage. And so bound the couple said their vows, the groom barely able to utter all the words he had written. The rings were blessed with air, fire, salt, and water. The groom seemed under a spell of confusion as he insisted on putting the ring on the bride's right hand-later corrected. The couple symbolically drank wine from the cup of life. The guests promised to support the couple's married life and prayed The Lord's Prayer together with the couple. After the pronouncement, in a glass-breaking custom so ancient that the origin remains unknown, the couple together smashed the glass from which they had drunk the wine promising to love each other until the fragments came back together. There was not just one kiss but many before the couple proceeded back down the aisle amid cheers and applause as once again the magical Celtic music swelled in celebration!
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on September 8, 2002
I'm reluctant to add to the 343 reviews herein of this cycle of songs, but I simply cannot resist.
I've been listening to this recording for over two years, on and off, always with the same result. It troubles me that this work of utter musical genius will always be pigeon-holed with so-called "Celtic" music. Is the work of Van Morrison Celtic music? Is the dark cinematic jouissance of Godard simply "art house" film?
Anyway, someone herein asks why McKennitt's music seems to leave one in the lurch so-to-speak, or even out of sorts. I'd say "devastated" is a better term. But devastated in the way that transcendentally exquisite works of art move the spirit to look into the vortex of time. Would it be too much to mention Mahler in this context?
This cycle of songs is a musical journal (journey), and the accompanying booklet traces those travels through a very poetic and sparse commentary of Being-There. That said, I challenge anyone to tell me where the "there" is in the haunting, halting, gorgeous Dante's Prayer ... Skellig may take me to Northern Italy, and leave me in a state of melancholy observance of the spent life of an Irish monk, but it also speaks to me of my own "end". Yet, somewhere in the lyrical and aural matrix of McKennitt's ravaging music I'd have to admit, sworn upon reams of lesser music, that the places and people she canvasses are all completely of the mind and heart.
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on February 20, 2002
The Good:
This album, better yet, this musical piece of art recieves a very rare 5 star rating from this reviewer. This album shows the many musical strengths of the underated and non-prestigeous Loreena Mckennitt. "Book of Secrets" displays an array of celtic ballads that are filled with passion, beauty and strength. Mckennitt is a more powerfull, more musically inclined Enya. Where Enya relies on harmony and wonderfully hypnotic sounds, Mckennitt relies on the strength of her voice, her bone-chilling lyrics and the artistic use of strings, piano, and countless other well synchronized, melodic instruments. This album will take you on a journey. It will lift your spirits and it will sink your heart. This is more then an album, it is an experience.
The Bad:
Almost always I am able to find the "bad" to go with the "good." In this case it is tough to search out a "bad" in something so "good". Mckennitt is a celtic singer, and celtic music isnt for everyone. Some people might find her voice to strong or may find her pitch to extreme. One mans beautiful voice is another mans headache. This is by no means an up beat, up tempo album and people looking for cheerfull, happy, dancy album should definately stay away.
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