Loreena McKennitt's 1997 album, The Book of Secrets, could well be the pinnacle of an exemplary discography. Building on the strength of the albums that preceded it (especially 1994's The Mask and the Mirror), The Book of Secrets is a lush, hypnotic and alluring collection of songs to soothe the soul, stir the imagination, and break the heart.
McKennitt doesn't break any new ground on The Book of Secrets - there is the Arabian-tinged "Marco Polo", the Celtic-flavored "The Mummer's Dance", themes of which would be found on any self-respecting world music album. What sets this album apart from all others is McKennitt herself, both as a singer and as an instrumentalist. Her voice ranges from sheer, unadorned sensitivity ("Dante's Prayer") to spine-tingling strength and power (the ten-minute epic "The Highwayman", based on the Alfred Noyes poem of the same name); sometimes both in the same song. That she plays six instruments and wrote all the music and lyrics for the album (except the aforementioned "The Highwayman") doesn't hurt, either. This is a woman who knows music, knows her music, and knows them both very well.
The Book of Secrets features an orchestra's worth of additional musicians, playing everything from the cello to acoustic guitar, from keyboards to mandolin, from hurdy gurdy to bodhrán (of course), from oud to electric guitar, from the tabla to the viola. Each is played in it own context, giving every song a unique feel and perspective. This isn't a by-the-numbers collection of world music songs - every track is its own journey, taking you into history, into culture, into the past, and into those quiet moments of contemplation and reflection.
It's not all lullaby music - uptempo numbers rub shoulders with the softer, introspective pieces, giving the album a very well-rounded feel, and leaving you with a wholly satisfying music experience. The Book of Secrets has something for everyone, and will draw you in over and over again, offering a new secret every time.