Leftovers galore here, but it’s all set around the Iona-meets-Local-Hero set, Snowdonia. This is a fine collection, ideal for de-stressing, with the Another Realm bonus disc added on.
Label: Open Sky (www.iona.uk.com)
Time: 14 + 14 tracks, 55 + 71 mins
Most box sets have a miscellaneous disc, where the bits and pieces are collected. Snowdonia (originally named Dunes) was already a miscellany when it was released as disc 4 of the The River Flows anthology that launched the band’s Open Sky label, back in 2002.
Slightly schizophrenic, it initially divides into two 22-minute segments: the first is made up of peaceful and ambient pieces and the second is a series of jigs and reels, but there is even a lightness to the latter. The end of the disc sees a return of the peaceful pieces as two add-ons from other albums appear: “Song of the Waves” is a spoken word piece over piano, synth and violin, adapted from words attributed to Columba, which was intended for the Open Sky album; while the closing track is “The Final Journey,” intended for Beyond these Shores and reprising its gorgeous musical theme on whistle.
The main chunk is “Snowdonia – Realm of the Ravens,” a series of short pieces adapted from soundtrack material for the BBC Nature programme of the same name. It’s the sort of peaceful music you would expect to hear backing images of birds floating on the breeze with mountains in the background. It has pipes, wordless vocal loops, harp, piano and keys washes, with occasional sax, violin and rhythm instruments. The track “Dunes” has a particularly lovely theme, echoed by other instruments and set to a vaguely eastern percussion track. A sparser, darker version of it continues in the short “Macha.” As the title suggests, “Above the Clouds” is a particularly free-flowing and peaceful track, led by van Essen’s violin.
The jigs series were recorded live in the studio by a version of the band without singer Jo Hogg, to reflect some of the popular live tracks that hadn’t yet had much of an album presence. “Hearthquake,” a key track for multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley’s former band You Slosh, feels quite generic at the beginning, but when it slows and takes its own melodic shape, its appeal grows. The third of these pieces is a very fine, lively, extended version of “Castlerigg/Reels.”
Making up for her absence, the odd-one-out is Hogg’s version of “I Will Give my Love an Apple,” recorded for a Classic Rock Society’s unplugged compilation.
This is a fine set, ideal for de-stressing.
Companion Disc: As Another Realm was already a double disc set, its companion disc has been packed with Snowdonia.
The tracks featured here are the more straightforward ones, so not the intricate mood epic “Atmosphere of Miracles” or the Celtic rocker “Let the Waters Flow.” For several songs, including “The Ancient Wells,” the title track and “Clouds,” we have Jo Hogg’s original demos. By now, she owned a Yamaha C7 grand piano and the recording was digital, so as well as showing the progress of these songs through time (there are three versions of “Another Realm”), the fullness of her piano work is evident from the start.
The genesis of “And the Angels Dance” is here. Keysman /producer Bainbridge had found an old rhythm loop that he and Hogg improvise over. The loop was on cassette, so the sound is somewhat clunky on this document, not helped by the exploratory nature of the process; but it does show well how the song evolved.
There are 26 minutes of very worthwhile new songs at the end. “All that I have Ever Dreamed” is an almost orchestral ballad that didn’t quite make it onto the album, but it is arguably better than one or two that did, with a memorable chorus hook, decorated with Donockley’s low whistle.
“Gotta Lift our Eyes Up” is a simple piano worship ballad that feels a little weak.
“Between Heaven and Earth” and “The Crossing” are two more improvisations that didn’t make the original disc. The first is an eleven-minute drifting wordless Bainbridge/Hogg piece (now with added “orchestral backdrop”) that would have fitted Snowdonia well; while the latter is an equally slow and atmospheric six-minute piece with bandleader Dave Bainbridge on keys and Donockley’s replacement Martin Nolan on pipes and whistles.