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IONA - Signature

IONA - Signature
Private Label

Long running Washington DC based Pan Celtic band, Iona, has been in action since the late 80s and recording since the dawn of the 90s. Headed by founders Barbara Tresidder Ryan and her British born husband Bernard Argent, the band is currently a four piece with bassist Chuck Lawhorn and fiddle/banjo exponent Jim Queen.

The major difference between Iona and their American Celtic counterparts is their immersion in all aspects of Celtic culture and musical lineage. Iona incorporates the complete Celtic smorgasbord from Irish, Scots, Welsh, Cornish Breton, Austrian and Galician styles, often fusing the disparate elements in their track selections. They also partake fully in the song traditions of the various places, referring to native speakers for sociolinguistic accuracy. This stylistic assimilation has been their calling card for three decades and has ensured their signature sound. More recently they have also added American old-timey.

Their latest album and their last planned CD is titled Signature. The fusions in their musical melting pot have an audacity others would baulk at, let alone consider matching, such as Hai O which fuses a Breton tune with a Scots Gaelic song, Bolero/Galvadeg which mixes Asturian and Breton sounds, and Can Merthyr combining Cornish tunes with a Welsh song. This, coupled with a penchant for odd rhythms, makes for a strange pancake for more conservative ears but, for willing participants, a fun ride.

Iona’s eclecticism gives their endeavours a freewheeling almost exotic appeal. Occasionally however, while the level of engagement with the individual idioms and styles is attractively beguiling, insufficient space is sometimes given to the individual tunes to allow them breathing space and to allow the musicians to stamp their own identity upon them. When they lay back, the feel is most satisfying and several moments occur. Hai O, Time Machine Set, Les Cousinages and Carls O’Dysart offer pleasurable moments, as does the closing Jock Stewart sung by Bernard Argent. Signature has some sterling pleasures within its grooves and Iona’s cultural criss-crossing remains disarmingly effective three decades on.

John O’Regan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 124 of The Living Tradition magazine.