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5 stars This is a stunning album of atmospheric nature. I found it to be something to connect with in an emotional and spiritual sense. It had enough melody, both in an instrumentally and vocal sense that it kept me listening. After a few listens it grew on me completely... I mean all the songs. Not just the ones with immediate appeal. Treasure, Murlough Bay, and Healing are my top three favorites. I saw a video for "Treasure" years ago and bought the cassette. I recently rediscovered it (much to my delight!) and am glad to see that Iona has still been releasing albums. I am anxious to hear what other works there are. And I highly recommend this album.
Report this review (#16077)
Posted Tuesday, December 16, 2003 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars Although it's not a concept album there is a theme that runs through this record that was taken from the book "Celtic Fire".That book details amongst other things "The story of St.Brendan and the voyage he reputedly made across the Atlantic Ocean in the 6th century with 14 monks in a coracle (a boat made of leather and wood)". This voyage is referred to throughout the album on five mainly instrumental tracks, while the other mostly vocal tracks are about more contemporary issues and experiences. As the band says "The amazing thing was that Joanne's song "Beyond These Shores" (which had been written three months previously and already been chosen as the next album's title) seemed to fit Brendan's story exactly."

"Prayer On the Mountain" is really Brendan's prayer on the mountain. It's an instrumental that features flute and various sounds including synths. Robert Fripp plays guitar synth and Frippertronics on this one. "Thrak" would be a little ways away yet. "Treasure" may be my favourite song. Inspired by Luke 12:22-34 where Jesus tells the people to relax and to stop being so preoccupied with getting so they can respond to God's giving. It starts off with heavy drums, acoustic guitar and flute. Vocals come in for the first time on the record, sax arrives late. It's hard not to get choked up during this song, i love it. "Brendan's Voyage (navigatio)" has a spacey, atmospheric intro before Bainbridge starts to cut a swath through the soundscape with some fantastic guitar melodies.The spacey synths continue as drums, vocals and piano all make an appearance. This great tune is about the start of Brendan's journey after the prayer on the mountain. "Edge Of the World" is mainly vocals and flute but you should check out the long, drifting flute solo late in the song. "Today" is another one of my favourites. It has such meaningful lyrics as percussion (a yellow bucket) is played. This is another emotional song.

"View Of the Islands" is the third of the Brendan themes and features some intricate acoustic guitar melodies and flute. It all sounds so beatiful,and i swear the imagery that they can bring to my mind IS a view of the islands. "Bird Of Heaven" is another great tune. Tempo and mood changes are striking ! Some chapman stick on this one, as well as sax,synths and some soaring guitar. Nice. "Murlough Bay" is slower paced with vocals,synths and piano. The song gets louder 2 1/2 minutes in and it works to perfection. "Burning Like Fire" has a good rhythm and strong vocals as we are also treated to a scorching guitar solo. "Adrift" is the fourth in the Brendan themes. It features some unusual sounds like the bass guitar being played with a knife and fork, and the cymbals being hit and then being dipped in buckets of water, all to give that drifting in a boat feeling. "Beachy Head" was recorded live in studio. The flute, vocals and drums lead the way until the sax comes in at 4 minutes to give a long, emotional solo to the end of the track. The band says there were few dry eyes when they recorded this one. "Machrie Moor" was mostly recorded during "The Book Of Kells" sessions, but they added recorder and more keys to it for this album. It's very Celtic sounding with some violin as well. "Healing" is a straight forward,catchy tune. "Brendan's Return" is about his triumphal homecoming. I love the first part especially of this instrumental, it's so uplifting. This is the fifth in the Brendan themes. "Beyond These Shores" was inspired by Psalm 139.

Q Magazine had this one sentence to describe this album. "It's rare that a record has it's eyes set so clearly and literally on heaven." There are so many instruments used on this record that I didn't even mention.

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Posted Friday, June 29, 2007 | Review Permalink
Prog-Folk Team
2 stars It was the description of Iona as a cross between Camel and Clannad that brought me to their shores. While I can't totally disagree with that assessment, I would qualify it by saying that it combines some of the more drawn out and languid aspects of Camel circa "Nude" with the tedious rock forays of Clannad circa "Sirius". In other words, Iona is like a mediocre rendition of the more substandard parts of the off peak albums of these two bands.

For the most part, melodies never take off, or head in an irritatingly dissonant direction that does not do justice to Joanna Hogg's impressive voice. So we are left with the more or less Christian lyrical themes which by themselves do not excite this listener, but which might have worked in a more dynamic musical context. A big exception to the rule is "Today" which features spirited pipes, superb percussion and an arresting ending. "Beachy Head" is a pretty ballad featuring sensuous sax, which reminds me of a more adventurous October Project.

This album is a disappointment to me as I was hoping for music that really set sail beyond these shores rather than staying moored and mired.

Report this review (#137882)
Posted Wednesday, September 12, 2007 | Review Permalink
3 stars I got interested into this band mainly because their bio on PA relates them to "Genesis" and "Yes".

I guess that this is the most MISLEADING bio ever featured here. This is now the third album I am reviewing and the same feeling always prevails. Some pleasant and atmospheric parts, combined with beautiful female vocals.

The band is also releasing ultra-long albums. This one being their longest one so far (around seventy minutes). But don't worry, their next one will be longer and their first live one, will be a double CD set. Some work for me since I review bands chronologically and (almost) completely.

A positive point here is that the wonderful voice of Joanne Hogg is more on the front line than in their previous efforts. But compositions are too mellow, uniform to really raise my interest.

I prefer the neo-prog-folk of "Mostly Autumn" or "Karnataka" than this peaceful music one. "Beyond These Shores" is not a bad album, but it is not sufficiently diversified. This was already one of the major problems with their previous albums. The folksiest one is the instrumental "View Of The Islands". Short, simple, attractive. Even if the we won't get the superb Joanne vocals.

One song is wonderful, absolutely outstanding and the best ever "Iona" composition. A long and complex number full of good rhythm and fully in-line with the bands I have mentioned above. A very good folk-rock song. With dynamics and passion.

Almost neo-prog during the long intro (three minutes), we'll get transported upon the Welsh hills for this beautiful journey. I'm just in love with Joanne's voice during her wonderful part. I just would wish that the band were more "Bird Of Heaven" oriented. It would have been higher rated, that's a given. Melodic vocals, pleasant sax, but more than anything, we will have a great guitar finale. You know, in Josh's style..("Mostly Autumn") hence Floydian.

"Bird Of Heaven" is of course the absolute highlight. And it lasts for over nine minutes. This is a FABULOUS number. I feel like a bird in heaven. Another highlight is "Beach Head". It starts as a pastoral acoustic song and builds crescendo (I really like this musical construction). The finale holds a fantastic sax part. I am not usually extremely enthusiast about sax but with such a break, I can only be VERY respectful.

The title and final track "Beyond These Shores" is a very much ambient song, atmospheric and melodious. Another highlight.

If ever you like sweet and vibrant female vocals, smooth compositions combined with true folkish instrumentation, this album might well be tailored to your taste. It is definitely better than their earlier works and therefore I will rate this album with three stars. But hell! What a long album to review!

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Posted Thursday, November 29, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars It seems only proper that there should be a section in every progger's stash of music that caters to the more contemplative and peaceful side of one's consciousness. In my case Iona more than fulfills that need. Their sound has what I like to describe as a "depth of field" that captivates and draws me into their mist-shrouded world every time I listen to them. To consider them boring would be a mistake because it would indicate that you aren't paying close attention to the myriad of different instruments that are swirling in the mix. Their skillful blend of modern and traditional influences is very respectful, unique and creative. Some have labeled Iona's offerings as being too religious in nature but I disagree with that pigeonholing. While I don't deny that they obviously derive much of their inspiration from the Christian realm, this is spiritual music for the soul, no matter what you believe in.

They begin the album in a mystical atmosphere as Mike Haughton's lone recorder slowly appears like a soft, welcoming lighthouse beacon on a foggy shoreline amidst Terl Bryant's eerie, ancient percussion devices. Soon Dave Bainbridge's heavenly keyboards arrive in force to make "Prayer on the Mountain" an impressive start to the journey. They segue seamlessly into "Treasure" with gargantuan guitars and rhythmic drums paving the way for Joanne Hogg's inimitable voice to take you hostage. She is the golden heart of Iona and if you haven't heard her sing yet then you need to. Here Terl's drumming is surprisingly aggressive and sets the tone for much of the CD. Another admirable characteristic of this group is the poetic quality of their lyrics as they express things you don't often find being addressed in other prog formats. Like grace. "If a son asks his father on earth/for fish or for bread/who among you would give him a snake or a stone?" she sings, "How much more does the father above/have a heart full of love/for the children that he calls his own?" That's good stuff. A spacey intro leads to a majestic melody in "Brendan's Voyage (Navigato)" and then a 12-string acoustic glides beneath Joanne's strong voice as she describes making preparations to strike out on a risk-filled quest, something most of us can relate to at one point or another in our lives. It also has one of those "shimmering" fadeouts that I adore.

"Edge of the World" is my favorite tune on the album. It's a beautiful ballad about leaving behind the safe and familiar for the great unknown. "Shall I turn my face/towards the shining sea/taste the salt of tears/for those I have to leave." she laments. On the memorable chorus the band employs intriguing kicks and accents that bring to mind what Peter Gabriel did on "Don't Give Up." The song is an absolute stunner and Haughton's soprano sax at the end is a joy. Up-tempo percussion roiling under Hogg's unadorned vocal on "Today" comes next and the stirring string score gives this number a distinct, traditional Irish flavor that is warm and welcome. It's yet another standout song. The soothing instrumental "View of the Islands" follows and it's a gorgeous duet between Dave's acoustic guitar and Mike's ethereal recorder. "Bird of Heaven," the album's longest and most engaging track, opens with lush keyboards surrounding a tenor sax before transitioning into a rockin' 9/8 segment that is exhilarating. The folkish verse and chorus concerns itself with the error of trying to coop up the acme of one's faith in the cage of suffocating dogma. "Lock him in religion/gold and frankincense and myrrh/carry to his prison/but he will be gone" for universal truth is ever-evolving/expanding and "still the bird is flying as before" Hogg sings. The grand ending is towering and cavernous with Bainbridge displaying not only his keyboard prowess but also his admirable guitar virtuosity. This man is a truly gifted and multifaceted musician.

"Murlough Bay" is no let-down, either. Here Joanne's angelic voice accompanied by fluid acoustic piano is a subtle treat, especially when she sings triumphantly "And here at last/I'm on my own with you..." But just as they nearly lull you into a meditative state the tune literally bursts out into a drop-dead- gorgeous chorus that rivals any group residing in the symphonic prog wing of the archives. It is stunning and a real eyebrow-raiser. It's darn near impossible to keep up this level of intensity so it's not surprising that "Burning Like Fire" slows the momentum some as it's a fairly pedestrian trek into pop. Dave performs a hot guitar ride but it's not quite enough to elevate this song above average. The peaceful instrumental "Adrift" follows with dense keyboards and piano layered over sounds of a wooden boat creaking in the calm waves, creating a lonesome but nonetheless comforting mood. A famous lover's leap on the south coast of England is the inspiration for "Beachy Head," another tune that ventures perilously close to being MOR "contemporary" (but perhaps it merely reflects the prevalent music style of the early 1990s). The ending with Haughton's sax wailing away is emotional and heartfelt, to be sure, but it grows to be a bit overwrought before the abrupt stop comes, symbolizing the final suicidal dive of one of the heartbroken souls that tragically ended their life on the rocks at the foot of the cliffs.

"Machrie Moor" is a lovely instrumental featuring guest Fiona Davidson on Celtic Harp and the band's livelier, uplifting side is showcased on the spirited "Healing" where Hogg's elated delivery of lines like "A time will come when the pain will go/A time will come when the love will flow/A time will come when your heart will know. Healing" is hard to ignore. Their performance of "Brendan's Return" is a gallant reprise of the earlier cut, this time without vocals but with exciting, tight rhythm section work from Bryant and bassist Nick Beggs and a thunderous, dynamic arrangement by the band. Once again Dave's piercing guitar cuts like a knife. The finale and title track, "Beyond These Shores," starts with Joanne singing by herself and the effect is amazing. Soon she is joined by the string section, piano and deep keyboards that will carry your soul out of and above your daily existence. And, as Bainbridge's exquisite piano drifts away into the Irish mist, you are left with a feeling of serenity that is elusive and rare.

I consider their incredible album that preceded this one, "The Book of Kells," to be more consistent and mesmerizing but I don't state that in order to disparage this CD in any way. "Beyond These Shores" is an exemplary work of aural art. If you have yet to discover the sublime pleasure that is Iona then I urge you to do so. (Can any album that Robert Fripp takes part in be anything less than high quality?) While it may not be something you'll get the yen to listen to as often as say Yes or Pink Floyd there will most likely come a time in your existence when cerebral and inspiring music will be exactly what you're wanting and needing to hear and you'll be glad you have this album in your prog collection. 4.5 stars.

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Posted Saturday, February 23, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars Beyond These Shores is Iona's third album and it's an excellent one with another great conceptual theme. Just like on their other albums the overall sound is very dynamic, consisting of a few different styles such as Celtic folk, prog rock and new age. Much like the other albums, especially "Book Of Kells" it's difficult to hear everything going on within the music at first, therefore repeated listens or revisiting this music is highly recommended. There are more vocals here than on the first two albums and a few progressive pop songs, which are of very high quality. "Treasure" and "Burning Like Fire" are two of the more uplifting moments, with great melodies and layers of synths. "Bird of Heaven" is one of the band's big epics. It's quite a poweful one and the guitar solo by Dave Bainbridge is excellent. Two personal favourites of all are "Edge of the World" and "Murlough Bay" which both show off the mellow atmospheric aspects of the band. They are really soft ballads, the vocals and underlying melodies are particularly beautiful. "Beachy Head" is also a fantastic song, It's so wonderfully arranged and orchestrated too. As it's been said, this is very inspiring and often incredible music. Four solid stars.

Report this review (#636395)
Posted Sunday, February 19, 2012 | Review Permalink

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