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Iona: Another Realm
Iona is a UK band that started back in 1988, with inspiration from the spiritual history of Iona, a small island off the western coast of Scotland. The band was founded by Dave Bainbridge, who plays guitars, keyboards, bouzouki and takes care of programming. Dave is joined by Phil Barker, on fretted and fretless bass; Joanne Hogg, on lead vocals, piano, and keyboards; Martin Nolan, on Uilleann Pipes, low and tin whistles; and Frank Van Essen, on drums, percussion, violins, and backing vocals.
I was fortunate enough to review Iona's 'Live in London' CD set and became a fan of the band overnight through that introduction. So when I heard they were about to release a new double CD studio project I wanted to have a chance to review it. Let me tell you this is one of the best albums of the year. The amount of inspiration wrapped within the lyrics, the slow quiet melodies and sounds of this historic land, with an eye to the future, are brought to life and celebrated in the music delivered within this masterpiece. The instrumentation is at the highest level and the lyrics will help lift you any time of year, but are especially important now with all of the negative news in the world.
If you enjoyed Iona's music from the past this new album builds upon the excellent discography they have created. If you are new to Iona's music you will discover one of the best inspirational bands in the world delivering one of this year's most well developed inspirational and entertaining albums. As good on headphones in the morning as it is in the car travelling.
'As It Was' opens with Hogg singing "Iona of my heart…for Iona shall be…as it was", set to beautiful keys, soft acoustic and electric guitar. A soft tranquil opening to this incredible masterpiece of epic spiritual prog.
Then the Uilleann pipes and soft keys mixed with soft drumming signal the opening of 'The Ancient Wells'. Hogg sings, "Let us climb this hill in the footsteps of Patrick…That your river will flow and this land will be cleansed", set to the pipes and a jig – like beat with drums and guitars churning out a happy melody. We're underway, let the dance of life begin.
'Another Realm' opens with more beautiful, soft sounds from Hogg's voice, supported by drums, acoustic guitar and pipes. Hogg sings, "A heart that yearns and calls out for more. And heaven's portals open to the sound". A good danceable melody ensues and brings happiness to the overall production. Hogg sings the powerful central message and theme of the album written well within this title track, "A realm of miracles and wonders. It is for us if we dare".
'Clouds' opens with beautiful piano and Hogg singing, "Oh have you seen the clouds?" As a fellow cloud gazer, this is one of my favorite tracks. The beautiful keys, supported well with drums, bass, and electric and acoustic guitar, with the violin adding that extra dynamic to the sound to lift it even higher. The lifting electric guitar and closing acoustic guitar are just fantastic, and they, along with the power of the drums make this an early highlight off the album.
Hogg's echoing vocals sounds, "Our King is here with us", set to the background sound of pipes and keys as if in a dream or a fog gets, 'An Atmosphere of Miracles' off to a mysteriously wonderful start. Then the track fades out only to return with Hogg's 'La, la, la, do's" set to soft keys. A peaceful, morning in a field or on the edge of a mountain type song that is so tranquil and beautiful it makes you long for those quiet moments. There are at least two openings before the actual lyrics to the main song begin. The guitar work and almost orchestra – like support of strings gives the track incredible power. This is by far the longest track on the album and it is full of powerful moods. Hogg sings emotionally, "Our King is here with us". At over 15 minutes it is another epic highlight of the double CD set.
'Let Your Glory Fall' opens with keyboard and soaring guitar, before the drums and Hogg join in. Hogg repeats the title as she sings, "Holy Spirit come, please won't You come here?" A wonderful hymn of praise, full of pipes, acoustic and electric guitar, drums, and warm bass. The power drums and keys that take over later complete the first CD of the album full of power and emotion.
'Ruach' is a violin and keys track set to a sad melody as compared to the first CD's more upbeat tracks. The track exhibits power with the sound of the keys and violin reaching high and loud.
Uilleann pipes and Hogg's vocals open 'Speak to Me', with, "The beauty of the trees…speak to me". The pipes and acoustic guitar and bass are a wonderful accompaniment to Hogg's soft voice.
'And the Angels Dance' opens with a good pounding beat on drums, with acoustic guitar, strings, bass and Hogg singing the song title set to, "Spinning round in a blaze of color. Carried high to a realm of light". The pipes and whistles join in to provide even more flavor.
'Foreign Soil' opens with Hogg's unaccompanied solo vocal, "The silent sun highlighting the breeze – kissed autumn leaves". Then the pipes and whistles join in with the rest of the instruments and band. The acoustic guitar work is excellent and blends well with the bass and that 'soft sun' sound of autumn. The piano accents and highlights are a welcomed addition to the piece.
'Let the Waters Flow' opens strong and powerful with heavier drums, guitars and bass, supported with piano. Hogg echoes the song's title as the rhythm picks up and the emotions grow. This is a mostly instrumental track allowing the full band to display their talents throughout.
'Saviour' is another of my favorite tracks on the album. Hogg's emotional delivery of the spiritual lyrics with support of the bass, whistles, strings, guitars and keys lifts spirit's high. The excellent tranquil acoustic work is fascinating.
A loud horn beckons or heralds 'The Fearless One', full of keys, guitar, drums, and strings. Then Hogg's echoing and eerie voice joins in set to soft keys, like a morning dawn, full of heavy drums, whistles and cymbals. Visions of the island of Iona drenched in fog as the soft light of morning stretches itself skyward fills your mind as you close your eyes and experience this excellent, over five minute experience of sound.
Another of my favorite tracks off CD 2 is 'White Horse'. It opens with powerful drums, strings, and keys, before Hogg joins in, "Don't look back…keep your eyes on the standard". A flute joins in to add even more dynamic sound as the drums pound like horse hooves and the keys shine bright. The percussion mix also adds to the dynamic vitality of this powerful track. The bass work is yet another highlight.
'As It Should Be', the album closer, opens again with Hogg reprising her "Iona" chant, supported with whistles, soaring keys, chimes, guitar, bass and later drums. Hogg takes us out with a beautiful reprise of "Iona of my heart. Iona of my love. As it was".
1. As it Was
2. The Ancient Wells
3. Another Realm
5. An Atmosphere of Miracles (including: When We See Beyond, Intimacy, and An Atmosphere of Miracles)
6. Let Your Glory Fall
2. Speak to Me
3. And the Angels Dance
4. Foreign Soil
5. Let the Waters Flow
7. The Fearless Ones
8. White Horse
9. As it Shall Be
Added: August 16th 2011
Reviewer: Mark Johnson
Related Link: Iona.com
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|Iona: Another Realm
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2011-08-16 19:06:01
Another Realm is about as uplifting an album as you'll hear this year. Iona have long been delivering their brand of spiritual Celtic prog & folk, but this new 2 CD set contains all the elements and more that have made them a much loved band on the scene.
If you are a prog fan and are not completely moved by a song such as "The Ancient Walls", complete with soaring vocals and dueling guitar/keyboard/violin/uilleann pipe passages, then you need to have your sanity checked. Joanne Hogg has a simply wonderful voice, at times sounding a tad like the great Annie Haslam from Renaissance, especially on the majestic "Clouds" and the heart tugging epic "An Atmosphere of Miracles". Her voice is lovely and completely intoxicating, and when surrounded by the stunning instrumentation from the rest of Iona, the results are simply magic. Guitarist Dave Bainbridge is another key contributor here, and though the arrangements are not 'guitar dense' by any means, he does toss in plenty of tasty solos and crisp riffs. In all honesty though, the entire band contributes equally, and without any one of them the end results might not be as strong as they are with the complete whole.
With two full CDs of material, this is one album chock full of great music that takes you on a journey through wonderous moments of grand symphonic prog rock, melodic folk, and majestic Celtic flavored pop/rock. Not only are the songs of high quality, but the packaging here on this digipack is superb, with amazing artwork, lyrics, and photos.
Iona have come up with another winner here, and at the end of 2011 there's no doubt that Another Realm will be mentioned on many 'best of the year' lists.
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