Saturday, November 10, 2007

Iona – The Circling Hour

I've been doing a lot of listening lately and I haven't written about much of the new music I've been listening to. When I get new music I put it in my car and on my computer and iPod. I listen to a random mix of music on my computer – a semi-complicated system that involves several playlists to make sure that new music gets mixed in at a higher rate than older stuff and I hit everything on my computer (all 20 GB) every 90 days or so. So in many ways the real test of how a new album is sticking with me is how long it lives in my car. I have a 45 minute commute every morning and afternoon and these days it's NPR in the morning and CDs in the afternoon. I usually keep things pretty fluid in my 6-CD changer in the Honda but one CD has stayed in the player since I first got it earlier this fall, The Circling Hour by Iona.

Iona, named after the Island of Iona, one of the "thin places," places where the distance between this world and the next are said to be particularly thin. Iona, an Irish group, often takes their lyrical inspiration from ancient texts, the words of saints who have written about their experiences with God and His world. Through using these old texts, the band has formed a bridge between those of us who are followers of Christ today and those brothers and sisters who have gone before. Many of their albums (The Circling Hour is their sixth studio album) are built around a theme. For example, Journey Into the Morn, their fourth album takes its inspiration from the hymn "Be Thou My Vision." The Circling Hour focuses on the beauty of creation.

The style of the music of Iona is progressive rock with heavy doses of traditional Irish music (sometimes using Irish instruments) topped off with the ethereal vocals of Joanne Hogg. Instrumentally, the band is top-notch. Guitarist and band leader David Bainbridge plays jaw-droppingly good solos frequently but one never gets the impression that he's just out to impress the listener. A somewhat recent addition to the band's sound is the violin (played by drummer Frank Van Essen) which soars above the band's sound. The whole album is wonderful, bringing the wash of sound that often characterizes much of Iona's music with tuneful melodies and thoughtful lyrics. To my ears, the last two Iona albums (this one and Open Sky) have been their best. Definitely worth checking out.

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