June 24, 2006
Bands that have stayed together for 20 years are a rarity. Which is an appropriate all around description of IONA. Barbara Tresidder Ryan and Bernard Argent joined forces with Barbara Seymour and Alan Oresky to create IONA, named after a Hebridean Island off the west coast of Scotland that has been synonymous with Celtic culture for 3,000 years. Ryan and Argent have continued to be the core of the band ever since, leading it through an evolution that encompasses music and dance from all the Celtic lands; Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, Brittany (France), Asturies and Galicia (Spain), and, of course, America, the biggest Celtic melting pot in the world. A celebration of Twenty, IONA's ninth album on the barnaby Productions label, is a double CD, one showcasing new work, the other a compilation from older recordings. This Washington, D.C. based quartet has toured nationally and internationally to promote its high energy, intricately interwoven arrangements, garnering rave reviews at festivals and concerts everywhere. Sound bytes, picture essays, schedule and biographies are available on the group's website
IONA's current lineup emphasizes lyricism and rhythm: Ryan's vocals, described as "warm and rich as dark honey", are complemented by newest member Andrew Dodds' powerful Scottish style fiddling and Argent's evocative wooden flute and spirited whistle playing. Bass guitaris Chuck Lawhorn's amazing leads and inventive accompaniment, combined with Ryan's hard driving bouzouki, guitar and bodhran (Irish drum) and Argent's eclectic percussion, support the rest of the band's contributions. Ryan also incorporates foot accompaniment practiced in Quebecois and Cajun music (bottine souriante or smiling boot) into IONA's arrangements. IONA is one of the few bands in the world that performs songs in all the Celtic languages: Ryan combines her training as a linguist and her expert knowledge of vocal technique to present the songs of these diverse traditions as they've never been heard before. The two collections contain eleven songs in English (of which two are Scottish dialect), four in French (one of which is Cajun, another Quebecois), three in Welsh, two in Scots Gaelic, one in Gallego (Galician dialect of Spanish), and one in Manx.
The material covered on the CDs is primarily traditional in derivation, with dynamic, original arrangements by the group as an entity. Drawing on the wealth of historical material available, IONA prefers the time tested quality of traditional music to modern composition. The powerful end product is the result of extensive research and assistance by prominent musicians from many of the parent Celtic countries. The liner notes read, "Having traced the roots of our ancestors, physically and musically, we've learned that some of the richest material is to be found on our own shores. Through evolutions of wonderful musicians and friends, all of whom have led our steps in more and more challenging directions, IONA continues to grow and prosper."
IONA's 20th celebration CD is a double album that contains a compilation CD of some of their best tracks (deep roots) and a CD of new material (new growth). Like all of IONA's music, alot of hard work, research and polishing goes into each and every album. If you are new to IONA then "A Celebration of Twenty" is the perfect first IONA album to purchase. If you are a big fan of IONA then you will love the new music and the unfolding 6 pane CD booklet cover with photographs of the band throughout the years (its about a foot and a half when unfolded - very cool!).
We have seen IONA perform a number of times at the Glasgow Lands festival; in fact, that is were we were first introduced to their unique pan-Celtic sound. Typically you would not expect a performing group to sound as good in concert as when you listen on their CD. However, these musicians are so meticulous and experienced in their instruments and vocals that their live concerts are just like listening to their CD!
We love IONA in part because it is obvious that IONA loves what they do. Their music flows and bends like the summer evening and makes for wonderful companion music during a summer cookout. Our recommendation for this summer is grilled salmon, fresh vegetables, tiki torches and the sounds of IONA playing on your backyard stereo to compliment a toast of wine and a celebration of 20 years of some of the best Celtic music that you will ever hear!
For more information on IONA, be sure to check out our feature
on IONA in our featured artist section.