Canada's Lorena McKennitt established herself as the queen of pan-Celtic music with 1998's double-platinum smash The Book of Secrets, and the two-time Juno winner's seventh LP, An Ancient Muse, shimmers with the hallmarks of her transcendent vision. Evoking the dark soul of the night, its exquisite introspection and otherworldliness point out that McKennitt's quest is spiritual as well as musical, and listeners are merely pilgrims on her journey. The well-traveled McKennitt — from cattleman stock herself, though she laughingly admits she has yet to buy a cowboy hat — recently explained by phone how her journeys often find their way into her music, the way a Mediterranean voyage not long ago led to Muse's "Caravanserai."
"I am fascinated [with] places and times where cultures meet and challenge one's identity," she says in a voice warm as firelight. "From time to time on the Anatolian plain [in Turkey], I would come across these fortified structures in varying states of decay. Some were very well-preserved, and some were just skeletons, almost like beached whales in the archways that remained."
These places were known as caravanserais, McKennitt explains, way stations for merchants traveling the ancient trade route known as the Silk Road. "The travelers could get food, rest [and] collect themselves," she ways. "Wrapped around these caravanserais would be bazaars comprised of local people — different cultures passing through, interfacing with more sedentary cultures with food, music, stories and ideas."