The Mask and Mirror is an album by Loreena McKennitt. Released in 1994, the album has been certified Gold in the United States.
Like most of Loreena McKennitt’s albums, The Mask and Mirror is heavily influenced by her travels. Her experiences in Spain and Morocco, specifically, serve as the inspiration for this album.
As her introduction to the album, McKennitt wrote:
I looked back and forth through the window of 15th century Spain, through the hues of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, and was drawn into a fascinating world: history, religion, cross-cultural fertilization….For some medieval minds the mirror was the door through which the soul frees itself by passing…. for others the pursuit of personal refinement was likened to polishing the mirror of the soul. From the more familiar turf of the west coast of Ireland, through the troubadours of France, crossing over the Pyrenees, and then to the west through Galicia, down through Andalusia and past Gibraltar to Morocco….the Crusades, the pilgrimage to Santiago, Cathars, the Knights Templar, the Sufis from Egypt, One Thousand and One Nights in Arabia, the Celtic imagery of trees, the Gnostic Gospels…who was God? and what is religion, what spirituality? What was revealed and what was concealed…and what was the mask and what the mirror?
Accompanying all the selections, as the liner remarks, are some of the entries in a traveler’s log that McKennitt kept all throughout her journey.
The album’s cover uses a collage made from the medieval The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries.
Press play and enter the world of Loreena McKennitt, where walls dissolve into thick, billowing mists as the ground beneath your feet turns to compacted earth and the sky above opens up to reveal a black cloak dotted with shimmering stars draped beneath silk-like clouds. Were McKennitt’s composing and songwriting abilities lacking of any luster (as they most certainly are not), her voice would still possess the strength to hold her fifth album, The Mask and Mirror, up on its own. But the combination of this talented woman’s vocal prowess and songwriting ability makes her all the more similar to her work — ethereal and almost unbelievable in its level of quality. A mythical menagerie, The Mask and Mirror contains songs that lift the veil to reveal the soul of McKennitt’s work in eight dreamlike, Celtic-inspired tracks.
The opening track, “The Mystic’s Dream” (featured on the TNT movie The Mists of Avalon, based on the novel by Marion Zimmer Bradley), is a haunting tune that features McKennitt at her most heavenly peak as a vocalist, evoking the spirits of the instruments and Gregorian chant-like background vocals that accompany her on the track. The album excels at conjuring up mythical visions in the listener’s imagination, as with the gypsy-like tune “Marrakesh Night Market,” which echos of the picturesque scene the title invokes. The soul-searching “Full Circle” best exhibits McKennitt’s ability to transpose the true meaning of the lyrics into her songs.
Even after the song ends, the somber mood lingers softly in the air. The balalaika (a three-stringed triangular-shaped instrument), the bouzouki (an eight-stringed instrument), and the hurdy-gurdy (a stringed instrument that also has keyboard and percussion parts) are among the rare, strange instruments introduced on many of the songs, including the lighthearted, uplifting “Ce He Mise Le Ulaingt? (The Two Trees),” on which these instruments demonstrate their incredible quality and prowess. The lyrics of this track are none other than the words of the poem of the same name by William Butler Yeats. McKennitt’s unique use of the lyrical words of William Shakespeare, combined with her skillful adaptation of the words to the heavenly, undulating music, make the final track, “Prospero’s Speech,” an inspiration in itself. (by Kerry L. Smith
Anne Bourne (cello, background vocals)
Al Cross (drums)
Nigel Eaton (hurdy gurdy)
Ofra Harnoy (cello)
Brian Hughes (guitar, oud, balalaika, sitar)
Patrick Hutchinson (Bagpipes, pipe)
George Koller (bass, tambura, cello, esraj, tambura)
Rick Lazar (drums, percussion, udu)
Donal Lunny (bouzouki, bodhrán)
Hugh Marsh (fiddle)
Loreena McKennitt (vocals, keyboards, goblet drums, accordion, piano,pipe)
Ravi Naimpally (tabla)
Abraham Tawfik (oud)
Victoria Scholars Choir conducted by Jerzy Cichocki
strings (on 07.2.)
Adele Armin – Andy Benac – David Hetherington – David Miller – Douglas Perry – Fujico Imajishi – Heinz Boshart – Kent Teeple – Mark Sabat – Marie Berard – Morry Kernerman – Sharon Prater – Susan Lipchak – Sylvia Lange
01. The Mystic’s Dream (McKennitt) 7.43
02. The Bonny Swans (Traditional) 7.21
03. The Dark Night Of The Soul (Traditional/St. John Of The Cross) 6.44
04. Marrakesh Night Market (McKennitt) 5.30
05. Full Circle (McKennitt) 5.57
06. Santiago (Traditional) 5.59
07. 1. Cé Hé Mise Le Ulaingt? (“Who Am I To Bear It”) (Hutchinson) 1.31
07.2. The Two Trees (Traditional/Yeats) 7.35
08. Prospero’s Speech (Traditional/Shakespeare) 3.23
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