The Sound of Iona
(Barnaby Productions, 1998)

Iona is an island in the Irish Sea where a monastery was based that kept Celtic culture alive for centuries. Taking their name both to honor that achievement and because they serve the same cause in the musical realm, the band Iona performs traditional Celtic tunes from all of the Celtic countries. Their sixth offering, The Sound of Iona is a wild romp throughout Celtica.

Iona's lead singer is Barbara Tresidder Ryan, also one of the band's founders. Ryan is distinguished from other Celtic singers (who, I have noticed, tend to be sopranos) by her darker, more sensual voice. I like sopranos, but prefer a rich, earthy alto any day.

Iona manages to stuff quite a bit of music onto this CD by the simple expedient of making all but one of the tracks set pieces. Among the outstanding tracks is "Bonnie Charlie/Song of the Travelling Beggars/Ma Mackenzie/Walking the Floor," which has Ryan singing in the second part, with a striking and memorable key change in the middle. "An Alarc'h/Tri Marghak" weaves together a Breton melody with a medieval Cornish ballad about a girl who falls in love against her family's wishes. Not sung in English, it begins very slowly with minimal accompaniment, but each verse is a little faster, with a little more accompaniment, until by the end, it gallops along with full accompaniment. It reminds me of those Russian squatting dance tunes.

The melodic "Lark in the Morning, Wild Geese at Night" was written by Loralyn Cole about the Wild Geese, Irish soldiers exiled by the British. The final track on the CD is "An Dro/Voici le Mois de Mai/Laridenn," which displays an amazing sense of timing. "Voici le Mois de Mai" is sung in French and is a "call and answer" song; one portion of the band sings to another portion of the band, but in such a way that the music is continuous. The chorus, even in French, is very memorable and the sort of tantalizing bit of a tune that you might find dancing through your head the next day.

The Sound of Iona is a great addition to any Celtic music library. The arrangements are new and different, the songs memorable and the singing fantastic. Pick it up, and maybe you too can find yourself humming or whistling little bits of Celtica the next day.

[ by Laurie Thayer ]

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