Canadian singer/harpist Loreena McKennitt returns to her roots on The Wind That Shakes the Barley, making an album more in the traditional style of her 25-year-old debut, Elemental, than the more adult alternative hybrid efforts that have been more typical of her work since. Thus, the Celtic side of her music is emphasized in the inclusion of Scottish and Irish traditional songs like the title track, "The Star of the County Down," and "On a Bright May Morning." The last song prominently features her harp, as does the instrumental "Brian Boru's March," and she is accompanied by her usual backup musicians, including Ben Grossman (hurdy-gurdy), Brian Hughes (guitar), Caroline LaVelle (cello), and Hugh Marsh (violin). The chief attraction continues to be her haunting voice, which she employs to ethereal effect much of the time, although "The Star of the County Down" finds her taking a livelier, more direct approach, while in "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" her vocal is not so much ethereal as eerie. For many of McKennitt's fans, this will be an album they have been waiting to hear for a long time. For others, it may be a change of pace in which an artist reveals the sources of her individual style.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann