Iona was in its stride here, interweaving singable songs with ethereal pieces, but here the shorter songs become more atmospheric, creating a cathedral of sound across the set. And hymns, Jim, but not as we know them.
Label: Open Sky
Time: 14 tracks, 78 mins / Bonus: 27 tracks, 73 mins
While British music critics may have made this the most highly acclaimed Iona album, it can’t rise above the level of its predecessor. What it does do is shift the tone.
Whereas Beyond these Shores had its fair share of driving pop/rock tunes, Journey lessens these (really, there’s just “Irish Day”) and majors on mood. “Lindisfarne” is a ballad; “Inside my Heart” has a strong tune (and a searing solo near the end) but at heart it is a gentle piece – and it makes way for the album’s centrepiece: the eleven-minute “Encircling,” which is probably as close to Yes as Iona would get (think “Awaken” in terms of its feel, helped by Moya Brennan’s harp work).
By now the band is in its stride, interweaving singable songs with ethereal pieces – and the ‘epics’ start to take hold. But here the shorter songs, like “Wisdom” and “No Heart Beats” – and especially “Everything Changes,” with Brennan’s backing vocals – become more atmospheric than driving, creating a cathedral of sound across the set. Unable to compete with the immediate power of the rockier songs or the unfolding drama of the atmospheric epics, most never really appeared in live sets again after this album.
Again, a theme emerges across half of the album, and hymns are the heart of this release. “Be Thou my Vision” inspires several tracks: two Gaelic versions of it virtually bookend the album; while an instrumental, whose title comes from the English lyrics, begins with wafty noodlings and ends with the sort of strident pipes that would become a regular feature in subsequent albums, when Troy Donockley shared a lead role on stage. A drifting “When I Survey” closes the disc.
It may be Nick Beggs moving on that lessens the brawnier elements; and Uilleann piper Troy Donockley’s full – if not yet prominent – inclusion in the band (alongside Mike Haughton’s whistles, flutes and sax) marks a slight shift towards a stronger Celtic sound.
Companion Disc: This is one of the most fragmented bonus sets of the series, with four bits of “Irish Day,” four of the title track and six bits of “Encircling,” most showing how the acoustic guitar section was layered. So this will appeal more to those who want to get underneath the music, rather than play it straight.
Featuring only parts of it shows just how beautiful the short title track is, which easily slips by almost unnoticed on the main album after the grandeur of “Encircling”. The fourth account (the version that was featured on the Songs for Luca 2 compilation) is twice as long as on the main disc.
We even get a minute of banter, included by Bainbridge for largely sentimental reasons.
The new material includes an alternative tune demo for “Be Thou my Vision,” and another unused song demo, while a nine-minute collage uses leftover material from Moya Brennan’s vocals (maybe a little over-used here) and Robert Fripp’s Frippertronics to create a new mood piece.