Iona Live: Heaven's Bright Sun

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For years Iona loyalists have been saying "but you must see them live" in defense of their lengthy, ambient-laden instrumentals and sometimes partially realized studio concepts. They have a point to an extent. A greater intensity and sense of purpose does exist in this two-disc live set, but invariably, whenever that dynamic reveals itself, Iona drifts further from anything inherently Celtic, and closer to '70s pop/prog like Camel, Renaissance and Genesis (which isn't a knock, because Iona doesn't place labels on themselves). An obvious exception is the previously unrecorded reel medley, "Mountain Road/Ivy Leaf/Hunter's Purse/Rip the Calico," which boasts a stunning seven-minute uilleann pipes clinic by Troy Donockley. Now that's Celtic rock! "When I Survey," utilizing the traditional melody of "Waly Waly" and the lyrics of 17th-century English theologian/hymn writer Isaac Watts, is sure to please devotees of both the folk-rock and progressive camps. Lead vocalist Joanne Hogg displays tendencies that evoke comparisons to Karen Matheson and Annie Haslam. Evidently, guitarist Dave Bainbridge picked up a few tips from Robert Fripp (who appeared on their previous two studio albums), as his epic, impressionistic 12-minute guitar intro on "Survey" eventually gives way to a fiery solo which wouldn't sound out of place on an early-'70s King Crimson album. Throughout Heaven's Bright Sun, Mike Haughton's unsolicited wailing sax outbursts do little to solidify Iona's classification as either a progressive or folk-rock group. And Iona wouldn't have it any other way.

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