Open Sky

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Iona's seventh album brings more of their patented progressive layered instrumentals and ambient respites, both seasoned by uilleann pipes, whistles, and other folk instruments. Unlike previous albums, however, Open Sky's instrumental passages possess more drive and body than before. It wasn't uncommon for such segments to continue vapidly for five or ten minutes before finally fading to an unsatisfying conclusion. Guitarist Dave Bainbridge makes much better use of his talents and available time (73 minutes) as he incorporates less of the innocuous and more of the inspired playing, akin to Steve Hackett as heard on The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and Trick of the Tail. In fact the technique employed by drummer Frank Van Essen resembles that of Genesis drummer Phil Collins from that same period. That's not to infer that Iona has abandoned their ambient and noodling proclivities; they've just found a way of making them more tuneful and relevant. The addition of violin (also played by Van Essen) to their lineup has made a difference in that regard. While Joanne Hogg's voice is prominent on several songs, Iona has always had the visage of an all-instrumental band. Her supple voice radiates from and melts into the music in much the same manner as a woodwind or electric keyboard. It's used more for textured than expressive purposes but is, nevertheless, a key identifying feature of this band. This is probably the most focused and well-conceived effort, thus far, by Iona.

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