Mirage and Reality CD Cover
Image © 1991 Kadence; Used with permission of Mae McKenna
Click on the album cover to visit the artist's own website

Album Review

© Russell W Elliot 1998, 1999

Last Updated: 02 May 1999

Although seven years since originally released, and now deleted from normal distribution channels, Mae McKenna's second solo album, Mirage and Reality (1991, Kadence (UK) KAD-1), is as contemporary and wonderful today as it was then. Here, Mae delivers outstanding solo vocal performances demonstrating the crystal clear purity, vocal accuracy, range and emotion she's become well known for. The album explores a range of music styles that perfectly illustrate and put the spotlight on Mae's stunning vocal abilities.

Mae's earlier album, Nightfallers (1988, Venture Records (UK) CDVE 18), was well received by both fans and the press. Unfortunately, like Mirage and Reality, it has been deleted from normal distribution for some time. A second hand copy commands a high price today since dealers that find one are as enthralled with the wonderful sound and production quality of the music as they are with rarity of the CD. Mae's latest independently produced album, Shore To Shore, was released in May 1999 on Mill Records. A reissue of Mirage and Reality will follow and a licensing arrangement for Nightfallers is being explored that would permit it to be reissued as well. With our eager anticipation of the followup and the news of these reissues it's a perfect time to review Mirage and Reality for internet audiences.

With all but two of the ten tracks penned by Mae McKenna and one or two from a range of other writers -- including, K. Manuel, J. O'Kane, J. Challenor, R. MacFarlane, L. Taylor, B. Jackson and Hugh McKenna -- the album features thoughtful and heartfelt English lyrics almost throughout. The final track, "Laoidh Chalium Chille - St. Columba's Hymn," is a traditional piece sung in Gaelic that has been arranged by B. Jackson and Mae herself.

With its combination of different style songs, the album would best be classified today as alternative but when released it would have been found in the folk section. The songs vary in length but centre around the 4:00 mark. Mae's vocals are ideally suited for a wide variety of song styles. Mae writes about the Nightfallers album, "... [it] set out to explore a new musical area, the creative use of voice in a modern musical setting. The blending of different ethnic musical styles and the unusual combination of traditional, acoustic and up to the minute electronic instrumentation proved to be highly successful." Indeed, the style continues in Mirage and Reality.

The album's title appears in the lyrics of the light folk-rock opening track, "Dreamer." The album then continues to weave between songs of different styles including light rock ("The Chosen One, "Changes"), into pop-oriented ballads ("Heart To Heart," "In The Circles") and then with amazing clarity into an almost Country and Western lyric in "Too Many Promises."

Mae turns in an especialy amazing performance with light acoustic guitar and the whistle in the song "In The Circles," which has quickly become one of our favourite tracks on the album. In the worldly and progressive-sounding "Flamenco," Mae's non-lyrical "hoo-hoo" vocals perfectly accompany instrumental parts that illustrate the virtuosity of the entire ensemble. "Time To Go" returns to the sound of the opening track this time adding a bit of light multi-tracking. Here again the clarity, purity and overall power of Mae's expressive voice deliver a call for peace.

Recorded partly in Scotland to make the most of available traditional players, Mae is accompanied by an array of talented musicians. Mae provides the vocals and performs acoustic guitar, keyboards, and contributes the programming. Billy Jackson performs clarsach, celtic harp, whistle, wooden flute and keyboards. Steve Hackett makes a guest appearance on Spanish guitar ("Heart To Heart" and "Flamenco"). John Hackett plays bamboo flute and flute while Hugh McKenna adds piano ("Too Many Promises") and keyboards. Jim Drummond's drums, percussion and mouth drums are especially felt in the upbeat "Changes" and "The Chosen One."

In Mirage and Reality Mae McKenna illustrates she's as comfortable singing deeply and soulfully ("The Chosen One") as in expressing emotion through her soprano vocal clarity ("Dream Lover" and especially "Laoidh Chaluim Chille"). The album serves a testament to her solo vocalist ability and serves as a good indication to female vocalist fans that her new album holds significant promise in the year ahead.

Sound samples of Mae's work can be found at her session singer bio website. Click here to visit this website where additional information and the samples can be found. Click on the album cover to visit Mae's own website.

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