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Iona - Open Sky CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

4.09 | 94 ratings

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5 stars Iona's Open Sky is one of my favorite albums of the 21st Century. (It is, in fact, #3 on my list of "All-time Favorite Albums of the Naughties.") It is one of those collections of songs that I enjoy playing start to finish, though I do have my favorites ("Woven Chord," "Wave After Wave," "Castlerigg," and "Hinba"). Others have eluded to the fiery guitar soli, the driving drumming, the amazing interplay and interweaving of traditional Celtic instruments, the peaceful, sometimes-ambient lulls, and Joanne Hogg's voice. I am here to reiterate and reaffirm all of this. Plus, the song structures are so interesting and delightful. Take "Castlerigg" (a veritable prog masterpiece, IMHO): It begins sounding like a traditional Irish song bordering on New Age with flutes and heavenly background keys. The music puts you into an ancient wood, as if you are walking with a group on a hunting or reconnaissance party. Then at 1:20 an ominous drum, tambourine and bass thrum begins as a bagpipe seems to "walk into the song" as if another party--the traveling minstrel or bar--has just walked out from behind a rock escarpment, or from out of a cave, marching right into the majestic mellotron forest glen (sounding a lot like a KATE BUSH song from The Dreaming). Then the minstrel stops, all ears turn to the soft 'responsorial' music of an acoustic guitar picker and his violin side-kick laying down the setting for Joanne to begin to whisper some unearthly and ever-so-powerful words of "light" and "memory" and "waves" until the intensity builds with Joanne's wordless keening at the 6:05 mark until an ENYA-like pause at the 6:50 mark clears the glen for response of the flutes and bagpipes with a full accompaniment of a driving drums, bass and synths chords, building, building as the drums and cymbols crash and clang to a climax and finale. Masterful song construction, beautifully orchestrating the listeners' mood sways.

1. "Woven Cord"--powerful instrumental; great start to finish. (10/10)

2. "Wave After Wave"--great complement of instruments helping to build around Joanne's powerful voice and catchy melody. (10/10)

3. "Open Sky"--Soft, simpler song with wonderful vocals and vocal harmonies. Mostly acoustic. (7/10)

4. "Castlerigg"--Amazing song. (See above.) (10/10)

5. "A Million Stars"--Beautiful solo violin (accompanied by background synth wash) piece. The melody is quite haunting--very Vaughan Williams-like. (9/10)

6. "Light Reflected"--A song that begins by showcasing Joanne's extraordinarily sensitve, subtle voice talents. Nice fretless bass, background piano arpeggio melody. Nearing the three-and-a-half minute mark the song threatens to break into full power, more so at the 4:00, then finally does with an awesome electric guitar solo before falling back to the ambient sounds from the beginning. (8/10)

7. "Hinba"--another song with an odd Celtic/not-Celtic/World music feel to it. The violin sounds more like that of Shankar from Peter Gabriel's "Passion Sources." A rather straightforward 'rock' chorus is this song-full-of-subtleties's only 'flaw.' Great instrumentation in last two minutes. (9/10)

8, 9, 10. "Songs of Ascent" (Parts 1, 2, & 3)--The weakest part of the album because of their soft, 'going nowhere' feel. Nice sounds, very ambient, just not a lot of development or power; little catchy melody making. More like movie soundtrack music (very pleasant, often beautiful, soundtrack music). Second half of "Part 2" is the best. "Part 3" is very folkie and has some nice Joanne vocal weaves and rocking climax. (Check out the electric guitar and Celtic flute duet/duel!) (8/10)

11. "Friendship's Door" is most interesting for it's reiteration of several of the album's previous themes (often in the background, as if listening to review tapes). The song itself is otherwise not very memorable. 6/10

Aside from the album's weaknesses, it makes up for it in its unusual and distinctive sound. Truly something worth checking out for every proghead. 4.5 stars rounded down for unknown reasons. (Maybe I give too many 5s!)

(Later edit): After continually bringing this one back to listen to--because I like it so, and because songs 8, 9, and 10, "Songs of Ascent" (Parts 1, 2, &3) have continued to grow on me--and because I never fail to listen to this album start to finish--and especially as I put this album into the context of all of the other music being produced in the 21st Century--I have decided to declare Open Sky a true masterpiece--one of those albums I will always carry with me.

BrufordFreak | 5/5 |


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