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Iona - Open Sky CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

4.09 | 94 ratings

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5 stars "Open Sky" is another glimmering prog island (the mystical Iona ,off the coast of Scotland, became a holy island where several kings of Scotland, Ireland & Norway came to be buried) that deserves intense praise, mostly due to the beguiling top-notch musicianship displayed by all members. Guitarist Dave Bainbridge is a personal favorite (his 2004 solo album Veil of Gossamer is an outright masterpiece), displaying a sense of Holdsworthian tone and atmosphere that has become so rare, bassist Phil Barker is remarkably fluid and inventive, in synch with drummer Frank Van Essen who clearly masters the percussive thumps and whacks that propel these dreamy tracks ever so forward. But the Irish/Celtic strain that defines Iona's music since their early years is entrusted to the genius of Troy Donockley (perhaps a future Chieftain?), breathing life and spirit into his Uilleann pipes, his arsenal of low & tin whistles, adding bouzouki and Portuguese mandola (the Celts traveled extensively through the Mediterranean before settling in Eire and Scotland ). Vocalist Joanna Hogg has a voice that would make any Celtic fan blush with envy (on par with Maire Brennan, Enya or Loreena McKennitt). The tantalizing instrumental opener "Woven Cord" sets the tone for the musical journey, a heartfelt piece of passionate beauty that gives each band member the opportunity to shine, with Van Essen in a particularly creative zone. The tunes tumble serenely one after another , "Wave After Wave" being another pearl of exquisite sheen with Joanna in fine form , the title cut gently caressing the soul much like a New Hebridian breeze and the monumental "Castlerigg", an outright tour de force that captures one's attention immediately, hypnotized by its sinuous Gallic charm. Both Bainbridge and Donockley shine oh so brightly. "A Million Stars" is another instrumental winner. A massive 3 part 21 minute suite entitled "Songs of Ascent" is the terrific epic that elevates this release to the highest levels, bewilderingly beautiful, pristine and subtly soulful. The finale "Friendship's Door" is a playful exaltation of joy and hope that would please even Beethoven (unfortunately, he was deaf after all and is now long deceased). While many seem to stress the "Christian" philosophy behind this group, (I for one have separated Music and Religion- the Audio Magna Carta or Dub- Edit de Nantes- a long time ago) the truth is that any attempt at conversion is quite low key and has not even the slightest hint of obtuse preaching. In fact, Iona is more spiritual than religious and does not stop the proceedings to be heavenly!!!! Iona has the pedigree of the finest progressive groups, ,easily the leading light in terms of prog-folk ,with a solid back catalogue, recent live DVDs, an excellent 2006 release "The Circling Hour" and an obviously very bright "Open Sky" future. This is an unabashed masterpiece: 5 island jewels.
tszirmay | 5/5 |


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