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Iona - The Circling Hour CD (album) cover

THE CIRCLING HOUR

Iona

 

Prog Folk

3.73 | 49 ratings

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tszirmay
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars My turn: Iona is my favorite prog-folk band and by a country mile. Some reviewers have given Iona a thundering thumbs up while others have described their recordings as "pleasant but nothing earth shattering". Vive la Difference! Comments such as "Pleasant" are certainly more pleasure-inducing than "unpleasant", no? The truth is that this group of exceedingly talented musicians has consistently improved along their road towards musical bliss. Not everyone likes languid, ethereal, Celtic-infused, harrowingly haunting prog/folk rock but to each his own (your loss frankly because the best definition of a true proghead is BEING OPEN- MINDED). Oh Well! Our own sinkadotentree knows what I mean, he loves the old Iona stuff too! "The Circling Hour" is the latest jewel to arrive into my prog library and it has been received with fitting pomp and circumstance. Guitarist Dave Bainbridge continues to shine ever so brightly, coating the lavish grooves with shimmering blasts of sheer splendor, proving once again that he is a six- stringer deserving of the loftiest praise from the Progland senators. Nimble bassist Phil Barker and drummer extraordinaire Frank Van Essen maintain their exquisite display of inventive restraint, focused on preserving the lush rhythmic euphoria that characterizes their dreamy, highly atmospheric music. Vocalist Joanne Hogg soars mightily over the proceedings with poignant passion, easily one of the better progressive rock voices in recent memory, combining delicate whispers with outright arias. And last but not lost, the luminous Troy Donockley provides the Irish-Scot coloratura so specific to the Iona sound, with Uillean pipes, tin whistles and various other sundries. The preceding "Open Sky" was reviewed by yours truly as a masterpiece and deservedly so. After numerous auditions, this new contribution is in my opinion, a slight notch below the sheer genius of the previous work. The CD starts off with the stately "Empyrean Dream", a luxuriant Celtic flight, tranquility oozing from every note like a solemn mist. "Children of Time" (a huge memorable chorus) and "Strength" (powerful lyrics) are solid tracks that highlight the importance of poetry, in defining the essence of folk based prog. The eleven minute mini-epic"Wind off the Lake" is one of the finest tracks ever composed by the group, a shrewdly woven arrangement based on a traditional Celtic theme with numbingly beautiful choir work, an exhilarating guitar foray and an overpowering sense of serenity. This tune exemplifies precisely why I adore this group; I could listen to uplifting stuff like this forever! "Factory of Magnificent Souls" is more stripped down to basics traditional folk, a simple luminescent melodic treat. The shimmering "Skymaps" is a Donockley composition, where the Irish minstrel gets to stretch his digits over an array of instruments, including piano and guitars. Need I say this is another album high point. "No Fear in Love" is a romantic spotlight on that overpowering emotion that we all seek, perhaps the only "commercial" track on this recording. The second epic is the 3 part "Wind, Water & Fire" suite, a softly languorous musical essay, replete with restrained magnificence and luminously hued wisps of melody and passion. The restless "Wind" is driven by the gentle sweetness of Van Essen's violins (simply gorgeous), effortlessly evolving into the liquid realm of "Water" as expressed by the pristine voice of Joanne Hogg and exploding into the fiery radiance of "Fire", where Bainbridge's electric guitar and Donockley's pipes crackle with blazing abandon. As the album notes aptly describe: "The term Celtic Fire is used to describe the living faith at the heart of the Celtic peoples". Hence, it is only fitting to end the festivities with "Fragment of a Fiery Sun", a melancholic setting of the golden orb, introducing the freshness and the peace of the night. Five windswept suns.
tszirmay | 5/5 |

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