Being a progressive music  fan for about  30 years (holy cow,  has it  been  that  long? LOL),  I initially  baulked at listening to Iona because of preconceived notions- thinking that the band  trended towards the old label of `new age.' How could I be so  wrong.  One of the best thing about the Internet is to learn and discover hidden   bands  that should have  a wider  audience. Iona   continues to put out   consistently high  quality compositions and   recordings;  the rest of the  non-prog/folk world should  wake up and take notice.  But  wait,  upon discovering their new CD arriving in the mail,  I wondered-   could they keep up their streak of amazing music?   Luckily the answer is  a resounding  yes!  Though not a huge departure  from past releases, there are some very neat changes;  The Circling Hour  is the most  `progressive,'  recording Iona has  created, which gives them  a  fresh take on  their already tried and true  style.  It is clear  that  this  band does not simply  put out  product, it  is a  lovingly created tapestry of sounds, visions and emotions. 
Highlights are  the amazingly angelic  vocalizings  of  Joanne Hogg.  Her voice  is simply stunning...  a perfect  accompaniment to the  emotional cadence of the group. This is the album that drummer Frank Van Essen  shines, and the recording   showcases a greater emphasis on rhythm and percussion  while keeping the drums fresh.  The rest of the band is simply  top-notch and blend perfectly together forming a rainbow of music instead of individual hues. Dave Bainbridge  and  Troy Donockly provide pipes, keys and guitars that  are the heartbeat of the band's emotion. The guitar even has the  few spotlight moments that even rock!
As for production, the album is breathtaking, a  staple of what you expect from an Iona release. The bass is mixed up, which goes with the more progressive angle of the band.  The tone is uplifting without   preaching or   trending into Jon Anderson territory.
My favorite  song is Wind Off the Lake.  This is a  10 + minute opus, yet  still remains personal and incorporates  Celtic, prog  rock, ambience and folk in one meld  without sounding disjointed or contrived. You  can tell the compositions and direction  from The Circling Hour have  a greater maturity as well as sophistication.  On Fragment of a Fiery  Sun, Joanne's voice reminds me  a bit like a solemn Kate Bush... blending with ethereal ambience. The song is pure magic.  The album's first track- Empyrean Dawn is another highlight.   Simply put, this album  has no  fillers.
So what  about  negatives?   Nothing to  gripe about unless we look  at the cover art and liner notes.  The album  art  is boring and fails to   convey  the beauty contained  on the disc (though I did like the moon image on the disc), within  this album, and the lyrics in the nicely conceived CD booklet are very difficult to read. 
What  would I like to  hear  from the  band on their  next recording?  I would love Iona   to  take another step forward on their musical journey,  perhaps  implement  medieval, perhaps baroque  sounds,  which  would be a perfect match for the band's  compositions. Maybe showcasing a lighter side (sense of humor),   as Steve Hackett  occasionally does.  But those are just  my personal thoughts. 

I believe this is Iona's best recording to date, bar none. I would love  to see the same progression in their  next album,  which I await  with baited  breath.  If you have not  already  discovered  Iona,  go  to your local musical  shop or Internet prog  shop,  check them out and buy this album. Don't forget to  check out their live DVD concert.   If you like melodic prog and Celtic  folk, you  will not be disappointed. This album is highly recommended. The Circling Hour is a  rare   masterpiece!  

Score  9.5 out of 10


CD: The Circling Hour
(review:  Lee Gaskins)