May 23, 2008 Volume 22, Number 05
Album has less preaching, more meditative praise
By D.S. Martin | ChristianWeek Columnist
Slide Lianna Klassen's latest CD, The Guest, into your player, and you're in for a richly-textured musical experience. The opening song, "Laudate Dominum" (Bless the Lord), begins with a low hum that rumbles from the depths of your speakers and the undulations of a distinctly Celtic whistle as Klassen's fluttering voice repeats these Latin words in an Arabian-sounding chant. It creates a mysterious sense of spiritual yearning reminiscent of ancient monasteries and desert mysticism.
The hand drums that introduce "Morning Prayer" seem to draw us from our meditation, as the multi-tracked voices leap into faster-paced worship.
"Holy One, Glorious One, Father, Spirit, Son, The Triune One…" The first time you listen, the words will probably slip by largely undeciphered, yet as you return to it the phrases become clearer and clearer until they carry you with them. It is her voice's breathy, overly-melodic quality along with the echoing, layered sound that slows our perceptions.
Her singing has an articulation similar to Máire (Moya) Brennan who has released beautiful Celtic Christian CDs, and is lead singer of the Irish group Clannad, or to other contemporary Celtic singers such as Loreena McKennitt or Brennan's sister, Enya.
The third track, "Adoramus Te Christe," like several others, returns to smooth Latin phrases which create a classical sense but whose familiar words such as "alleluia" and "amen" make them very understandable.
All of these songs are original to this CD, even though many of them resonate with the centuries-old spirituality of Celtic believers. Some use words directly from the distant past including "Celtic Blessing: You Are The Peace" which comes from sources more than a thousand years old. "You are the door that's open wide / You are the guest who waits inside / You are the light, the truth, the way / You are the hope that meets the day..."
Similarly, in "I See His Blood Upon The Rose" Klassen brings new melody to an old poem.
Besides using piano, fiddle and guitar, Klassen's album plays beautifully with traditional sounds using harp, recorder, whistles and Ulliean Pipes.
Although Celtic flavourings existed on her recent CDs, I believe she has brought all of the elements together much more consistently here and with better results than ever before. On her previous album, Borderland, Klassen often seems to be imitating Enya's pop style. The best moments on that CD are the tracks that most closely foreshadow The Guest instead of giving in to more commercial sounds. The album, for the most part, was recorded at Whitewater Studios in Surrey, B.C. with help from Christian music veteran Roy Salmond.
Another way in which Klassen has grown is that she has trimmed the preaching from her lyrics. Instead, her truth-telling has been channelled into beautiful praise. For most songs Klassen wrote her own lyrics with a strong simplicity reminiscent of the Psalms.
"Oh, Lord hear my prayer and hear my cry… Lord have mercy… I pray." She still felt the need to include a five-step plan of salvation in the liner notes, but at least she doesn't do this in her songs.
The Guest flows from early morning to the final cut "Sleeping Prayer," and is intended to carry us through various aspects of prayer. I suspect that most listeners will not remain that focussed from beginning to end, nor will they use it as a manual for prayer, but will be drawn in at various points while listening to this lovely, praise-filled music. I'm not saying that Klassen's intent is misguided, but simply that the album's blessings may flow in slightly different ways than she first envisioned.
D.S. Martin is a Canadian poet and writer. His poetry chapbook So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press) is available from www.dsmartin.ca or www.rubiconpress.org
LIANNA KLASSEN--THE GUEST
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