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Circling Hour
Circling Hour
Genres: Folk, World Music, Pop, Rock
  •  Track Listings (11) - Disc #1

This Album's Release Follows a Very Productive Period When the Various Members of Iona Produced Solo Albums. Dave Bainbridge and Troy Donockley Actually Produced a Series of Duo Recordings and Concerts. Iona Reunited to Gr...  more »


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CD Details

All Artists: Iona
Title: Circling Hour
Members Wishing: 9
Total Copies: 0
Label: Open Sky UK
Original Release Date: 1/1/2006
Re-Release Date: 11/6/2006
Album Type: Import
Genres: Folk, World Music, Pop, Rock
Style: Celtic
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaCD Credits: 1
UPCs: 604388669127, 0604388669127, 060438866912


Album Details
This Album's Release Follows a Very Productive Period When the Various Members of Iona Produced Solo Albums. Dave Bainbridge and Troy Donockley Actually Produced a Series of Duo Recordings and Concerts. Iona Reunited to Great Acclaim and Success and the Band's 2006 Album "The Circling Hour" is their First Studio Album in More Than Five Years. Recordings Took Place at Various Studios and Some of the Material was Road Tested at Some of the Band's Concert Performances. The Album was Produced by Dave Bainbridge and Mixed in Los Angeles by John Kellogg.

CD Reviews

Iona's Most Progressive Album to Date
Chip Webb | Fairfax Station, VA | 01/03/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Going on eighteen years since they first formed, Iona still is one of the great hidden treasures on the musical scene. Despite excellent critical reviews and the enormous, varied talents of each band member, the band seemingly still is known by only a few of us. It's a shame, because arguably no other band around today is more deserving of success. At the same time, part of the problem in this decade rests with the changes in both life and professional circumstances of the band members. Motherhood understandably has limited the time that lead vocalist and songwriter Joanne Hogg can spend on music. Meanwhile, the founding of Dave Bainbridge's Open Sky Records has enabled the band to rerelease its out-of-print albums and generate sales through the web without a middleman. However, because Open Sky is more-or-less a "home shop" and Bainbridge himself undertakes most of the production duties, it takes longer to complete projects.

What both the personal and the professional changes have meant, to the regret of Iona lovers, is that the band this decade has become an occasional outfit for five highly talented individuals who work on other projects (e.g., solo albums, recordings with other groups) in the interim between each Iona project. The Circling Hour, released in September 2006, is only Iona's second new studio album this decade. The last one, Open Sky, was released in May 2000 in the UK. (I am not counting the four-disc box set The River Flows. It contains the band's first three albums and rarities, and was released in September 2002 as the flagship recording for Open Sky Records.) In contrast, the band released four highly original studio albums and one incredible double-disc live album during its most productive period, 1990 through 1997. Nonetheless, The Circling Hour is finally here, and that's reason to rejoice!

In many ways, The Circling Hour is classic Iona, with epic, mostly instrumental pieces mixed with songs throughout. It is also different, however. In the past, Iona has been known for being somewhat undefinable due to its mix of musical styles -- progressive rock, folk, Celtic, and jazz. The jazz influence first decreased with the departure of co-founder David Fitzgerald after the band's second album, but only altogether disappeared after Mike Houghton left the band in the late 1990s. The other three elements have always been in place, however.

The Circling Hour is much more monolithic. The Celtic and folk influences have diminished; just for one example, uilleann pipes are heard less often this time around. This album is unquestionably essentially a piece of progressive rock -- you can hear the ghosts of Kansas, Yes, and many other great bands of the 1970s walking the halls of this mansion. Maybe this happened because Dave Bainbridge decided to build the album from the rhythm and bass sections this time around.

This in itself is not a bad thing. Iona can do progressive rock like no one else around today, as England's Classic Rock Society has recognized practically year after year. It's amazing to hear almost every band member play instrument upon varied instrument -- most of them are masters on several fronts. Bainbridge and his inside-and-outside-of-Iona cohort Troy Donockley can play virtually any instrument, it seems. Phil Barker does excellent bass work, and the multi-talented Frank Van Essen is as adept with violins as with drums and percussion. Hogg only plays keyboards, and surprisingly only on one song on this album (motherhood must have limited her participation essentially to vocals this time around), but Iona concerts have proven that she can pick up a guitar whenever she desires. Fortunately, given all this musical genius, Hogg's vocals are as strong as ever.

And those wonderfully soothing acappella vocals open The Circling Hour. "How wonderful this world of Thine/A fragment of a fiery sun," she marvels, enunciating the main theme of the album. A keyboard comes in as she progresses, but the mood is a quiet, reflective one until a cascade of sounds assaults the senses less than one minute into the piece. This opening track, "Empyrean Dawn," is as representative of what you can expect with Iona as any other track they've ever recorded. You can't quite call it a song; it's an instrumental with verses, but the music drives the words rather than the other way around. And by the end of the track's nearly eight minutes, you've gone through quiet depths and free-wheeling heights, ending with a sense of joy that counterbalances the opening meditation.

The songs on the album -- "Children of Time," "Strength," "Factory of Magnificent Souls," and "No Fear in Love" -- are mostly very good-to-excellent in quality. ("Factory of Magnificent Souls" doesn't do much for me, but that's a personal rather than objective reaction.) "Children of Time" is deliriously involving as Bainbridge's and Donockley's wind instruments sweep you away. "Strength" is essentially the same song seen and heard on the band's Live from London DVD, but it has been made stronger with the addition of the album's theme sung at key points of the song. "No Fear in Love" is the most pop song that Iona has done since Journey into the Morn's "Irish Day." In Joanne Hogg's skillful hands, it's a very moving tune and the one most likely to get me to press the "repeat" button.

The instrumental pieces, however, overpower the songs, as was also true on Open Sky. "Wind off the Lake" is one of Iona's much-loved progressive epic pieces and will easily become a fan favorite, if it isn't one already. "Sky Maps" (or "Skymaps" -- it's inconsistently printed both ways in the song listings), a composition of Donockley's, starts out hauntingly beautiful and is a great instrumental with a few lyrics. "Wind, Water, and Fire" is divided into three parts. Part one ("Wind") is dominated by Van Essen's beautifully reflective violin playing. Joanne Hogg's wordless vocals come to the forefront in part two ("Water"), and percussion work (also by Van Essen) starts in the background but eventually pushes in front of the violin and forces Hogg's beautiful voice ever higher. Part three ("Fire") starts out as an all-out progressive rock piece, dominated by Bainbridge's incredible guitar work. We then get Hogg's vocal commentary on the meaning of the three parts before the peaceful conclusion to this extraordinary piece. The album's concluding track, "Fragment (of a Fiery Sun)," is also quiet and restates the main theme of the album.

The theme, mentioned in the very first two lines of "Empyrean Dawn" and throughout the album, is one of wonder and joy at the world we see around us. Iona always has delighted in creation, but never more so than on this album. The meaning of "the circling hour" is more nebulous. "Children of Time" references the communion of saints and defines "the circling hour" apparently as our time of death when we join that communion on the other side of the veil. Later, however, in "Wind, Water, and Fire -- Fire," "the circling hour" is the time of human rebirth and purification by God's Holy Spirit. Hogg mostly adapts lyrics from hymns and Celtic pieces this time around.

Yet the Celtic Christian influence, always a key component of Iona, is not as pronounced this time around. This is not to say that the message is generically spiritual. By the end of the album, you have a clear sense of wonder in creation not being just a good end in and of itself, but one that points to God and Christ, and their work with humanity. Absent this time around, however, is the sense of following a particularly Celtic Christian person (e.g., Brendan, as in Iona's third album, Beyond These Shores), hymn (e.g., "Be Thou My Vision," as in Iona's Journey into the Morn), prayers (e.g., the ecstatic visions and supplications of Columba, as in "Open Sky") or work (e.g, the Book of Kells, as in Iona's album of the same name) throughout the album. I, for one, miss the more highly developed themes of previous albums. In the past, I felt that each new Iona album revealed a new aspect of Celtic Christian history or spirituality to me. That's not true with this album.

That criticism is just about the only thing that keeps me from giving this album five stars. In practically every other way, this is an outstanding album on the musical end that should belong in any music lover's collection. (Hogg's best lyrics to date were on Journey into the Morn.) Iona is immensely talented; let's hope that we do not have to wait another five-and-a-half to six years for their next studio release!"
A band that never grows old and again explores new ground
R. Lindeboom | Paso Robles, CA USA | 11/11/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Unlike many bands, Iona never seems to grow old and they are never afraid to try new musical terrains and territories. This is easily the most 'rock' of all of Iona's albums to date. Still, it contains all the beauty, elegance and majesty that fans of Iona expect -- with the vocals of Joanne Hogg again as soothing and somehow exquisitely hopeful and plaintive as ever -- but the band rocks at an intensity that has never been found on any Iona album up to this point. As ever, Iona is a study in contrasts with all this rocking being balanced by drummer par excellance Frank van Essen's crystalline classically-trained violin giving a balance that only musicians of this calibre can express. To say this is a magnificent album is an understatement. It is Iona, confidant after nearly two decades of playing together, and yet never losing sight of what brought them together in the first place. If there is anything that I wish was different on this album it's that as a fan of both Iona and Yes's Rick Wakeman, I know that Rick Wakeman has always loved Iona and has said that he'd like to play with them one day. I know they are friends and so when I got this CD from Amazon, I quickly rifled through the credits hoping to find Rick guesting on this album -- as King Crimson's Robert Fripp once did long ago on a couple of Iona's previous albums. It wasn't to be but hey, it gives one something to look forward to on a future Iona project, doesn't it?"
Continual Spiritual Growth
John D. Dooley | Southern California United States | 11/23/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"One day, somehow I found the 1995 CD from Iona "Journey into the Morn". I instantly feel in love with the Angelic female singing of Joanne Hogg, the fast & clean guitar playing of Dave Bainbridge, & the Celtic Uilleann Pipe & whistles of Troy Donockley. The music was a vast cross breed of progressive rock music in the style of "Yes", "Happy the Man", & "Gentle Giant", with the Irish jigs of "Silly Wizard". Even Robert Fripp of "King Crimson" joined Iona for 2 songs with his "Frippertronics". There is more to Iona's style from folk to jazz roots, yet all added together creates their own unique sound. Afterwards I started collecting almost every recording from the band including their solo recordings. Sadly a few of their recordings are either hard to get or out of print. What really impressed me was the Patristic, Biblical, Celtic Christian spiritual lyrics used to express the love of God, nature, & life. Never did the use of these lyrics become like the commercialize soap one hears on American Christian radio, but their last CD of 5 years ago "Open Sky" had more of a rock beat with an abstract Celtic Mysticism that was made to reach out to a larger audience. When I received this CD I quickly opened & looked at the lyrics to see if they were Patristic or Mystic. The lyrics were more simple than their past efforts, but once I played the music the lyrics became alive & profound. Joanne Hogg chants, speaks, & wispers more than normal this time around yet it works to great effect with the last song "Fragment (of a fiery sun)", which is in the same style of the song "Beyond These Shores" from the CD of the same title. "Fragment (of a fiery sun)" reflects the whole CD which causes you to weep for mankind while praising God:

How wonderful this world of Thine
A fragment of a fiery sun
How lovely and how small
Where all things serve Thy great design
And life's adventure has begun anew
The life of all

Where life's adventure is begun
In Thee the lamb

On this CD the drummer Frank Van Essen reveals his skill on the violin specially on the song "Wind, Water, & Fire-Wind". He is a classical master by making the strings weep which makes me ask the question: "Is he a drummer that plays the violin or a violin player that plays the drums?"

Therefore if you want something progressive with a vast mix of different styles expressing the positive & profound, give this CD a spin."