Top positive review
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Splendid - the best of their first three albums
on 28 September 2003
I got hold of this album as part of the 'River Flows' boxset, which featured remastered versions of Iona's first 3 albums and a fourth CD of new material. Much as I love all the other albums on that compilation, it's 'Beyond These Shores' that I keep coming back to. It was the group's least 'concept-based' album so far, and as a result I find it more accessible than 'The Book of Kells', which was a series of impressionistic pieces related to various pages of the eponymous manuscript.
The album loosely follows the life of St Brendan the Navigator, who is said to have made a voyage in a coracle with a few companions, travelling as far as Greenland (and beyond, if I remember rightly). The story is conveyed by means of atmospheric pieces ('View of the Islands' being one of my favourites) and more conventional songs, which work well even on their own (as witnessed on the live album 'Heaven's Bright Sun'). The 'Celtic' influence is still strong on this album (particularly in 'Today' and 'Machrie Moor') but it's tempered with Prog Rock/Jazz sensibilities (check out 'Bird of Heaven', which makes heavy use of irregular time signatures).
The boxset version of the album (and probably this one as well)ends with a beautiful vocal track called 'Beyond These Shores'. No obvious references to Brendan here, though clearly inspired by him - 'Wherever I may go, Your love surrounds me'. It seems like a call to follow God wherever He may lead, which is the ultimate lesson of Brendan's life. The melancholy, evocative ending of the album leaves you thinking, and that must be a good thing. It's the very essence of Celtic Christianity.
Iona are one of British music's best kept secrets. Buy the album and enjoy!