The Phantom Tollbooth
February 1999 Pick of the Month

The Eye of the Eagle
Artists: David Fitzgerald, Dave Bainbridge and David Adam
Label: Kingsway Music
Length: 12 tracks/62.49

Once upon a time there were two men called Dave. Dave Fitzgerald and Dave Bainbridge were session musicians playing in the backing band for established Christian artist Adrian Snell, but in their soundchecks they began to experiment musically.  When united with vocalist Joanne Hogg a new band was born, Iona. Fitzgerald has since moved on from Iona, to study his art further and fall in love  with liturgical music, but they still believe that together they have a very special musical connection.  While Iona is on sabbatical the two friends have joined together with their namesake, David Adam, to create the intricate mesh of atmospheric music and meditative spoken words that is The Eye of the Eagle.

The way the words and the music are knitted together on this album it is difficult to know which inspired the other. In reality the readings are taken from the already-penned Adam title which this album is named after, and by which Iona were influenced on their Journey Into the Morn album. The words were chosen as the music was woven together, hence the close connection, and at times the words trail off to allow the music to develop their theme. Adam narrates throughout and he has a most appropriate voice, combining authority with some gentleness and a soft edge.

It was suggested when news of this project first came out that it was to be a follow-up to Iona's Book of Kells album, the last that Fitzgerald  was directly involved with, but to see this as Book of Kells part two would be to pigeon-hole it wrongly. The music shows more of the liturgical tradition that Fitzgerald encountered as he studied for a masters degree in music. While retaining some of the Celtic instrumentation of Iona, and containing the strongly Celtic vocals of Maire Brennan (Clannad) and Shona MacDonald (solo artist), only a few passages fit into that genre.

Fitzgerald continues his traditional role of woodwind player par excellence. His three saxophones (soprano, alto, tenor), flutes, whistles and clarinet are joined by a couple of more unusual instruments and work particularly well in a number of plaintive roles, with only gentle backing. Bainbridge brings his keyboard, piano, and guitar skills together with some bozouki, various bells, and programming and arrangement work. While the musicianship is stunning, the arrangements are probably the oustanding part of this recording as a classical boys's choir and a cathedral organ fit in seemingly effortlessly.

The one thing that does seem at times lacking is percussion. This is not an album that would benefit from crashing drums but perhaps some light, creative percussion and a little more bass would have done the arrangements some service. Without this, some listeners may not find this dynamic enough, but they will certainly be losing out as with concerted listening there are many gems to discover. The spoken word sections may also not be to everyone's taste, but they are well executed. For those who really do not want to have them in place during every listen an alternative version of the CD without those vocals is available from the musicians.

It is difficult to know how to sum this recording up. It is epic in places, but simple in others. Suffice it to say that the arrangements are magnificent. Not to every listner's tastes certainly, but an exploration worth making. Perhaps it would be best to leave you with one of Adam's contributions to this project which sums up what the musicians are trying to bring to life in their work:

By James Stewart  (1/10/99)