In December 2021, Grammy-nominated musician and philanthropist Loreena McKennitt performed a series of seasonal concerts in a historic sanctuary in Stratford, Ontario. These performances were recorded live and released today as McKennitt’s 16th album, Under a Winter’s Moon. Along with its digital release, Under a Winter’s Moon is available to purchase as a six-panel, two-disc digipak. The 23-track Christmas album also includes readings by Tom Jackson, Cedric Smith, and Jeffrey Red George.
In the album liner notes, Loreena explains that she “sought to incorporate elements of the oral traditions found in many cultures — to capture, inspire and reconnect us with our past, while offering a reminder of the people of those times and what their manner of communication meant in their lives and might mean still.” The first part of the album begins with Jackson, a Canadian Indigenous actor and Companion of the Order of Canada recipient, reading The Sky Woman Story, an Indigenous creation story. Then, the second disc contains Smith’s reading, in six parts, of A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.
Overall, Under a Winter’s Moon is a mystical journey. McKennitt’s powerful voice leads the listener to an otherworldly experience that could only come from a fairytale — it’s no wonder she was in charge of “To the Fairies They Draw Near” off Tinker Bell’s original soundtrack —. Accompanied by Caroline Lavelle on cello, Graham Hargrove on percussion, Errol Fischer on fiddle, Pete Watson on guitar and 12-string bouzouki, and Cait Watson on Irish whistle, Loreena showcases her potential and artistry.
Clearly, Under a Winter’s Moon is a well-crafted album that distances itself from the typical holiday music formula. There are no “Jingle Bells” or “Silent Night”; instead, McKennitt bets on classic carols that many might not be familiar with. From “Huron Carol (Jesous Ahatonhia),” Canada’s oldest Christmas song, to “Coventry Carol,” which references the Massacre of the Innocents in the Gospel of Matthew, the album immerses the audience in an unconventional yet delightful atmosphere.
Undoubtedly, Loreena McKennitt is a trailblazer in the music industry, and Under a Winter’s Moon proves why she’s sold over 14 million albums worldwide. For sure, this record sets a challenge for artists to explore new sounds and step out of their comfort zones, especially when it comes to Christmas music.
Next month, Loreena, along with the musicians and narrators — except for Tom Jackson — will be touring seven Ontario cities, and you can get tickets here. Listen to and watch McKennitt’s beautiful performance of “Huron Carol (Jesous Ahatonhia)” below, and don’t forget to stream and buy Under a Winter’s Moon.