Quite possibly one of the more unlikely combo’s to be wheeled out onto the stage, Spark & Echo are genuinely nice people and Jonathon’s got some almighty piano chops whilst anyone wielding a basson on stage and not using it as a sonic weapon deserves applauses! This track will be sure to pop a smile on your face if you dig the snazzy hands electric piano.
Whenever I listen to Joanne Hogg I have to approach her music from a non-religious perspective. As someone whom isn’t religious myself, hearing religious based music can be a bit of a struggle, however Hogg usually uses her lyrics in a more positive warm way and can be interpreted to find inner strength from other sources if you change their base.
“Personal” is Hogg’s second solo album and this one weaves a more worldly influence and a more piano singer/folk-songwriter feel. It doesn’t feel too far removes from Iona itself. Opener “More” places the piano centre to the mix with various other folk instruments like the dulcimer taking a side stage but adding real depth to the music. The chords mix between major and minors but everything has a certain warmth in its production that adds a further layer to it. “Forgive Me” is cute with its rolling piano riff verses. “O Lord I’m Crying For Help” reminds me very much of Emily Richards as its gives a lot of space for the vocals to breathe and Joanne has such a wonderful timber to her voice. The verses change to being quite grande and you’ll want to break out.
“Waiting” has a great trip beat to its emptiness where the whole song sounds more emotive for its lack of bottom end bass so even when the guitars are going for it, it sounds naturally like its rising and reaching to the sky. “The Fire When You Delay” is a mid tempo love fest. “Personal” again utilises a piano riff that circles round and round whilst chords change behind it. It results in some great melodies and some really touching moments. It’s a trick used in several places in the album and I really like it. “Dancing” breaks out some piano chops and some great string/woodwind instrumentation to give things an Irish Jig feel. We then get the sitar for “You Are My Strong Salvation” which is positive soft rock track given a juicy twist with the worldly instruments hidden in the mix. “I Felt Sad In Church Today” has a great use of Eastern Bells that have been muted. Layered into a beautiful melody its the slight twang of world fusion that continues to set Hogg apart from any of her peers. The closer “Where Grace Is Hiding” is the sole complete ballad on the album and is delicately played and sung.
Yes, Christian references are abound here but the music is superb. I still view it as positive folk rock in a way and that’s best to get it out to a wider audience so that people can really appreciate what an amazing talent Joanne Hogg is.
Iona have been around for so very long now their live shows are utterly flawless. This DVD released many years ago showcases the band in both an acoustic and a full plugged setting and the results are spellbounding.
Disc 1 is a 90 minute plugged set full of outrageous guitar solos, crystal clean vocals and wonderous melodies that Iona have mastered. There are so standouts and so crowd favourites such as “Flight of the Wild Goose” with the majority of the gig being a high energy affair. Disc 2 actually is a small half hour set of acoustic renditions of songs such as “Chi-Rho” which go down well with some wine. Also attached are some extensive interviews with all the band and how they work together despite being based all across the country.
Iona aren’t so much about their hits but more about a wave of feeling and this is brought out in the concert because you can’t help but feel so positive and full of heart and enthusiasm. Although they are a Christian band, I do not really follow a religion and so take the feels of joy and use them in my own context and so long as the positive feelings get out there across a whole board of walks of life, that surely proves Iona’s power as a band.
If I were to be critical, the sound isn’t fantastic for a DVD and the picture quality looks as if it has been overprocessed and looks fuzzy, grainy and a bit pixelated in places. However if these visual downgrades won’t annoy you, this is a fantastic concert experience showcasing some absolutely amazing talent.
Iona, led by the sweetest silky vocals of Joanne Hogg (Xenogears) are this weeks Live Vault with a beautiful performance of Chi-Rho. You can watch it here. I know that it is Christian music however I believe Iona are one of the few bands that actually transcend that genre and the music means more than just a religious context.
After reviewing their excellent new compilation album, HPM managed to get five minutes with the fab quartet in between tour dates. Here’s what they had to say…
Why are you called Anonymous 4? You all have such beautiful voices, it must be hard to stay Anonymous!
It was a musical joke, a rather esoteric one! Anonymous 4 is a designation by a modern musicologist for one of many treatises about music and musicians that were written in the Middle Ages, all of them unsigned. This particular treatise describes music from around 1200 in Paris, and names composers who wrote (but also didn’t sign or take credit for) some of the most brilliant vocal music of the day.
When going through hymns to choose to be recorded and arranged for yourselves, how do you pick which hymns to do?
We do concept concerts and concept albums. Each of our programs comes from a certain time and place, like 13th-century France, or 15th-century England. Sometimes, a program is drawn from a certain musical manuscript (Montpellier Codex). Other times, it’s based on a certain personality (the Virgin Mary, St. James) so we choose music with texts focused on that person. And yet at other times, a program follows a certain liturgy or service (e.g. a Mass or Vespers service) which requires certain types of pieces to follow a specific order.
Each of these ways of organizing a concert or a recording guides and limits our choices of pieces to include – and that’s a good thing, as there’s so much great music to choose from! Within those limits, we still sing through lots of relevant music, looking for fabulous pieces and seeking a balance between continuity and variety in musical style and texture.
Do any of you have any particular favourites from your compilation CD “Four Centuries of Chant” or favourite hymns in particular?
Every time we work up music for a new recording, the music for that recording becomes our favorite music. And the pieces we chose to include on the Four Centuries of Chant compilation are some of the most-loved works from all of that favorite music. So it’s very hard to choose one piece in this compilation over another. But one of the hymns that we do love to sing as a magical way to end a show is our English version of “Ave Maris Stella” (track 2), an incredibly beautiful hymn to the Virgin Mary that dates back at least to the 9th century. And one of the most deeply moving pieces, with incredible intertwining of text and melody, is the English lament of Mary, “Stabat iuxta Christi crucem” (track 5).
How are all your lovely pet’s doing? Do they come with you on tour?
Oh, don’t we wish they would! Nora, the piano-playing cat, made her first TV appearance this afternoon. She seems to be starting her own touring career! So why should all our wonderful kitties (and one dog) not come along…
How do you find going on tour? Do you find your music hits a more emotional place when performed live?
We find that it works both ways. So many people who come to our concerts tell us afterward that they have been transported as we’ve sung our seemingly otherworldly music. But we have also had wonderful reports of our recorded music being used to usher in new life, to accompany people out of this life, and to ease and enhance the healing process after injury or during treatment for illness.
Where else chant-wise would you like to explore next?
We’ve just premiered Secret Voices, a new program of music from the 13th-century Spanish Las Huelgas Codex. We’re really enjoying the diverse styles we’re able to explore in this manuscript, including varying types of 2-part, 3-part, and 4-part polyphony, and some very beautiful chant. We’ll be recording Secret Voices in November, for future release on the harmonia mundi label.
We thank Anonymous 4 for their time and we recommend you see them on tour!
Having discovered Anonymous 4 via Christopher Tin’s “Calling All Dawns” album, I picked up the quartet’s latest album which is a kind of retrospective over their career taking segments from each of their previous albums.
To review “Four Centuries of Chant” is very difficult as the album is a completely fluid being. One song envelopes you into another and is done so in a way that transitions softly and almost without notice. What I can tell you however is how the experience is quite profound in a way and the vocal talents of these four ladies really touch something that is rarely touched upon.
The open trio of songs is taken from “An English Ladymass” and are 13th and 14th Century chants. They are sparse, elegant and humbling. There is a certain stillness to them almost Buddhist like, in a meditative state of being and just channelling positive energy out. A beautiful start the album.
The next trio is taken from “The Lily & The Lamb” and is a chant from medieval England. The three pieces continue to send you away to another world, particularly the rousing middle section where some higher vocal sections show some fantastic precision and execution by being both powerful and serenely angelic at the same time. Three chants for St. James from the Codex Calixtinus appear next from “Miracles of Sant’lago” and continue to ascend to audio heaven with some beautiful scales and pitch changes.
“Te Deum: Isten, tegad” from “A Star in the East” is from medieval Hungary but continues the same vein of vocal restraint while “Responsory: Spiritui sancto” from “11,000 Virgins” effortlessly spins a yarn of heavenly soars and magical calm sections.
As the album continues through the rest of its 20 tracks, you’ll have floated so far away from home you’ll almost forget you’re listening to four distinct voices travelling with you. The music never really deviates from the first track to the last and there is just one style of chant performed.
Anonymous 4 are fantastic. “Four Centuries of Chant” is perfect for the end of a busy day to relax, as a meditative album to drift off to or even as an album to feel at peace. There is something unique about the quartet’s voices that harmonize as one and therefore despite singing in an old tongue, they carry a message all of their own and you’ll be captivated until the last breath. Magical.
This week’s video vault comes from Celtic/Christian group Iona, fronted by Xenogears/saga vocalist Joanne Hogg. The video isn’t anything particularly special but its quite rare to find on the internet, so here’s the music video to Treasure.
I enjoy the music even if I’m not Christian myself and you can always change the words to singing about a loved one instead.