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Iona - The Book of Kells  CD (album) cover

THE BOOK OF KELLS

Iona

 

Prog Folk

3.73 | 55 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
5 stars If there are some out there who don't think that progressive music can be breathtakingly beautiful without becoming a tedious bore then I recommend that you give this album a spin. I was (and will probably continue to ever be) in search of a sound that would be different yet challenging, emotional while still maintaining a high level of integrity and thoroughly captivating in its profundity. After reading positive reviews of this CD I felt that "The Book of Kells" would be something I would enjoy immensely and I'm happy to say that I'm not disappointed in the least. I only hope my humble observations do it justice.

It's rare to find a female vocalist in the realm of prog but within seconds of starting "Kells Opening Theme" you find yourself walking into a spiritual world where a bonafide angel sings to you. Joanne Hogg's amazing voice is the first indication that you've found something unique with Iona and the cavernous depth of Dave Bainbridge's keyboards along with his skillful guitar work is the second. I really can't think of anything or anyone to compare them to. A wonderful acoustic guitar starts "Revelation," followed by the entrance of dynamic drums and Joanne's arresting vocal. It's an excellent, moving song and the lead section features what is either an instrument that I'm not familiar with or an exceptional guitar effect.

Next is almost 12 minutes of primo prog. "Matthew - The Man" creates the lofty sensation that you are bursting out of a cloud and flying into clear skies above the earth. When Hogg's immaculate voice comes in singing lines like "There is a place of peace/there is a sea of calm/where the spirit gently breathes/life into the soul of man" you believe her without question. Guest Troy Donockley's Uilleann Pipes are quite effective here before David Fitzgerald's tenor sax and Nick Beggs' fretless bass guide you to a majestic peak. Joanne sings the final verse, then the entire band erupts with the electric guitar and soprano sax leading the charge to the exciting climax. Multiple tracks of splendid acoustic guitars introduce you to the haunting melody of "Chi-Rho," then Terl Bryant's drums kick in with undiluted strength and confidence. Hogg's vocal is again strikingly pure, the harmonies are inventive and the tenor sax at the end is top notch in this well-written song.

"Mark - The Lion" is a stirring instrumental that begins with tribal-like drums leading you to an explosion of symphonic keyboards, sax and an impressive electric guitar solo for a finale. "The River Flows" is a relaxing tune with a smooth Latin/Indian feel to it that provides the listener a nice change of pace. Nick's exquisite bass work really shines on this tune and the reappearance of the Uilleann Pipes is a treat.

The heavenly "Luke - The Calf" is the first of six instrumental numbers in a row but none of them are as blissful and enrapturing as this one. Dave's resplendent keyboard tones blended with David's divine flute performance and the sound of ocean waves will transport you to another dimension. It's an amazing track. "Virgin and Child" starts with guest Fiona Davidson's Celtic Harp, then she is accompanied by Fitzgerald's fine flute and Bainbridge's spacious keyboards to weave a luxurious tapestry of sound. "Temptation" sets up a mysterious aura at first, then the group drops into an infectious, rhythmic groove where an unusual instrument of some kind (many are credited) injects a devilish dissonance into the flow.

A tragic, ominous undercurrent characterizes "The Arrest - Gethsemene" where David provides a seemingly free-form tenor sax solo over Dave's hypnotic, cascading synthesized orchestrations. "Trinity - The Godhead" follows and its cosmic beginning summons a sensation of approaching the enormous, omnipresent but unimaginable power source at the center of the universe. Chimes drift in, giving it an ethereal flavor and then Fitzgerald's sax and Beggs' bass intertwine in a spectacular dance. The restful sound of a rainstorm brings you gently back to terra firma. The last instrumental in this stretch, "John - The Eagle" is a combination of sax, symphonic keys and piano that is, in a word, gorgeous.

If you're thinking this is all just some kind of sleepy new age music, the bold and triumphant reprise of the main theme of "Kells" comes barging in to dispel that notion. Joanne's brilliant voice is a welcome return and Terl's driving, pounding drums will rouse you from your pensive daydreams. This is not lightweight pop at all. This song rocks. They end the album with another towering instrumental, the all-encompassing and descriptively titled "Eternity - No Beginning, No End" in which the keyboards, sax, drums and flute each get a moment in the sun before the congregation of Kensington Temple Church enter to create a celestial chorale of praise as they all float away into the soft glow of God's unwavering grace.

What a special pleasure in life it is to discover a band whose music engulfs me with satisfaction and pleasure like these gifted musicians have. If you are not enamored with thick, dense keyboard-generated soundscapes or female vocalizations then this isn't for you. (If the genre of Christian Prog sometimes offends, you'll be glad to know they only say the name of Jesus one time and they never, ever get preachy for a second.) However, if you are the type that loves to be carried away from your daily grind by your prog then this is perfect for you. This is without a doubt the best progressive folk I've ever heard. Bravo, Iona!

Chicapah | 5/5 |

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