This instrumental duo and regular team return to Stephen Lawhead’s novels for Celtic inspiration.
Time: 8 tracks / 33 minutes
Label: Ark Music (arkmusic.com)
I really think that anyone interested in ambient or mellow instrumental music should have at least two Jeff Johnson albums in their home. When I’m leading a contemplative service, his is often the first name I turn to for music: his work is often colourful, beautiful and tuneful; while on his more ambient pieces, the sparsely spread notes resonate richly.
Releasing Eirlandia on St. Patrick’s Day gives a hint to the content: Celtic in melodic tone, but without any Uilleann pipes (although Brian Dunning does briefly make his flute sound similar). Accordion leading the melody on closing track “The Kingdom of all Tomorrows” beefs up the Irish feel, too.
The pair first came to my attention with their Songs from Albion 2, which made many sit up and take notice. Like that, Eirlandia is also a joint affair inspired by a set of Stephen Lawhead books.
That said, my excitement about this release has been tempered a little by its limited ambition. At only 33 minutes long, it is not quite a full album; and compared with other collections by these musicians, a couple of tracks feel somewhat anonymous.
Maybe the Celtic connection leads naturally to a mellower mood – and, of course, it also depends on what is in the story – but if they are anything like Lawhead’s Byzantium, the books must have more drama, which should in turn be reflected in the music.
Flute seems to take centre stage, supported by fiddle, some wordless vocals and Johnson’s keys, which are largely content with providing washes, simple loops and dashes of piano. Halfway through, the loops start to give more colour. "A Wonder Voyage" begins with bubbly synth work that reappears more quietly after a break. It would sit nicely on “Albion,” as would “Tara Hill,” with its echoey, percussive flute and built-up layers.
This collection has enough pastoral beauty to appeal strongly to any newcomers and it is a timely reminder that this dedicated faith collective at arkmusic.com deserves deep investigation – particularly the Albion collections and Byzantium for their musical colour; the more liturgical and spacious Vespers and A Thin Silence; and Johnson’s 5-star impressionist collaboration with Phil Keaggy, Frio Suite.