Contemporary Celtic band Iona have been making music since their eponymous debut released in 1990. Fusing traditional Celtic folk instruments (flutes, whistles, bodhran drums, etc.) with jazz and progressive elements caused them to stand out from their other contemporary Celtic peers.
Albums from the band commonly featured worshipful tunes (“Treasure” for instance, from their third album Beyond These Shores or “Revelation” from the second one, Book of Kells), traditional Scots-Irish tunes, as well as lengthy instrumental songs, or instrumental sections within songs.
One of the most stunning examples of the latter is “Bi-Se I Mo Shuil” (Irish Gaelic for “She is My Eye”), from their fourth album Journey into the Morn. Deceptively, the track begins with a pretty, but safe-sounding, adult contemporary tune, sung beautifully by lead vocalist Joanne Hogg. But listen to the tempo and time signature shift beginning at 1:55. Shifting to 11/16 time (!), a few bars of atmospheric keyboards and vocals give way to one of the most impressive flute solos I’ve ever heard. Yes, I’m raving about a flute solo–just listen! But it doesn’t end there–lead guitar and keyboards join in with perfect unison for a few more bars. This would be impressive enough on the studio recording, but the fact is that the band can also pull it off live. Compare the studio version below to the live version!
Iona is one of those bands I forget about for a few months, and then dig out any one of their releases and fall in love again. It’s also great for people who want to connect with the sacred via music, but get bored with standard worship music.