(updated 20 July 2014, original manuscript 15 February 2014) The fourth live album by Great Britain's progressive Celtic band Iona is entitled Edge of the World: Live in Europe (Open Sky (UK), OPENSKYC017, 2013). Iona share a musical space with Scotland's Capercaillie and Ireland's Clannad. Unlike the recordings that have come before it, this third live double CD release is a compilation of live recordings from the band's 2013 tour recorded at three UK performances and one from another in the Netherlands.
Although their live performances and lineup have moved on since, those unable to see Iona on stage may be interested in their two live DVD recordings, one from 2004, and the other from 2006. Our editorial staff last saw Iona almost two years ago at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium. The new album is clearly faithful to that performance. The superb production quality on this album is clearly attributed to the mixing and mastering work by the band's violin and drum player Frank Van Essen.
The two CDs in Edge of the World and eight-page full color booklet are packaged in a cardboard tri-fold adorned by the stunning artwork of Amy Kendall. Track names, performance locations and original album appearances join band thanks within the booklet that includes handfuls of photos of their live performances. While songs span the band's extensive eleven studio album catalog that dates back to 1990, these recordings are most clearly from the tour promoting the Another Realm album.
Fronted by Joanne Hogg (vocals, keyboards, acoustic guitar), today's lineup includes: Dave Bainbridge (lead guitar, keyboards); Frank Van Essen (drums, percussion, violin, vocals); Phil Barker (bass) and Martin Nolan (pipes, whistles), replaced Troy Donockley who joined Finland's symphonic metal band Nightwish prior to the release of the band's last studio album Another Realm. Iona's albums and live performances have been reviewed extensively here and were named a Musical Discoveries featured artist in 1997. The new lineup are incredibly tight on Edge of the World.
Listeners to this new album will immediately notice the outstanding vocal production right from the accessible opening tracks "Irish Day," "Today" and "Another Realm." Joanne invites the audience to step into the aisles and move a bit before "Jigs" is played. The rich production of these tightly woven instrumentals adjoin almost seamlessly into the this album's title track "Edge of the World" from the Beyond These Shores studio album.
While Iona was perhaps best well known in Christian music earlier in their career, their lyrical messages have never drifted far from those themes. An extended progressively styled number in this vein from their last studio album "White Horse" works tremendously in the live setting. Van Essen's violin is featured in the instrumental "Luke-The Calf" from the 1992 Book of Kells album, clearly illustrating the timelessness of Iona's music.
An album standout and long-time Iona favorite "Wave After Wave" from 2000's Open Sky is the first of three stunning numbers that conclude the first disc. Richly produced, Joanne's soaring vocals climb above the rich instrumental production once the song takes off. The two tracks "Let The Waters Flow" and "The Ancient Wells" from Another Realm follow. Powerful progressive instrumentals -- listen for Dave Bainbridge's amazing solo excursions -- dominate "Let The Waters Flow" yet are complemented by both Joanne's vocalise and Uilleann pipes that segue into and drive the extended instrumental introduction to "The Ancient Wells." Joanne's powerful vocal is clearly the centerpiece of this tightly-arrenged Celtic-tinged reeling track.
Most, if not all of Iona's live performances include a rendition of "Chi-Rho," so it is only fitting that the second disc of the set open with a truly great rendition of this accessible track. A thick baseline provides the foundation for the Uilleann pipe melody that characterizes the well-known and perhaps most tightly arranged instrumental, "Flight Of The Wild Goose," from the band's 1990 debut album. Martin and Joanne introduce the very accessible standout track "And The Angels Dance." Listen for the vocalise within the arrangement and the brilliant reworked Irish reel at the track's conclusion.
The tempo and sound of the album downshift in "Ruach," a keyboard and primarily violin-laced instrumental that serves extremely well as concert interlude and extended introduction to "Divine Presence," a lyrically rich track from Journey Into The Morn featuring Joanne's soaring vocal lines. "Let Your Glory Fall" picks up the pace and further give way to extended progressive stylings and the vocally rich sound of Iona. Listen for Dave Bainbridge's vast guitar excisions and Jo's vocalise in the instrumental bridge of "Let Your Glory Fall."
"An Atmosphere of Miracles" features a fantastic Uilleann pipe introduction that blends superbly into Jo's powerful vocal performance and underscores the entire arrangement. Jo is known to ask the audience to sing with her, and this recording is no different. Listen for another one of Dave's far reaching guitar solos. The three concluding tracks of the album begin with the rousing "Casterigg/Reels" instrumental that flows naturally into the audience favorite "Bi-Se I Mo Shuil [Part 2]" from Journey Into The Morn. Instead of closing the album with of of the favorite concert encores "Encircling," the album concludes with an amazing rendition of the extremely relaxing Celtic instrumental "Columcille."
As the updated edition of this review [finally] goes to press, Dave Bainbridge informs us that his next solo album is planned for release this summer. He said, "[It's] got some great female singers -- Joanne, Sally Minnear, Yvonne Lyon, Andrea Alonso, Milasa and also Debbie and my 13-year old daughter Evie!" Joanne Hogg's new solo album Uncountable Stars is also well underway with only artwork and mastering left to complete before release.
Indeed Iona and their artists continue to grow from strength to strength. Bravo!