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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Isle of Tides

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Feb
Isle of Tides
Sounds like … the ethereal and progressive Celtic pop of Iona and Clannad (Máire Brennan)At a Glance … very similar in sound to Iona, almost too much so, Isle of Tides represents an impressive leap forward for Eden's Bridge, beautifully combining pop, art, history, and worship

Fans of Iona may already be aware, but there's a terrific alternative to the band's progressive Celtic pop sound. For those who haven't had the pleasure, Iona is a cross between the ethereal Irish pop of Clannad (Máire Brennan) and the sweeping epic rock of Yes and Genesis. Problem is, they're not a very prolific band – their last studio album was released in early 2001, and that was five years after the album before that. Thankfully, we have Eden's Bridge to fill the void in between, though it's been four years since their last album – there must be something extremely complicated about making this type of music. In fact, Isle of Tides has been in the works since the band formed. They humorously note that drummer Terl Bryant (formerly of Iona) has gone through three different drum kits since they began work on the album. The delay is as much due to technical difficulties as it's been a labor of love, but time and effort have paid off.

Most know Eden's Bridge best for their Celtic series released through Straightway/Sparrow in the late '90s, five albums that used Celtic ambience and instrumentation to worship with ancient hymns and original compositions. Though similar in style to Iona, those albums bore little resemblance to the grandiose ethereal pop sounds of their predecessor. The new album changes that. Sarah Lacy's gentle and breathy vocals are a dead ringer for Joanna Hogg (Iona) – with nearly identical vocal ranges, they sound as if they could be related. Sarah's underscored with a terrific blend of pop rock and Celtic instrumentation provided by her brother Richard, David Bird, Jon Large, and Terl Bryant: swirling keyboard pads, drums, traditional percussion, electric guitars, uilleann pipes, and a variety of flutes and whistles. Though still ambient and worshipful, Eden's Bridge has slowly yet authoritatively evolved into more of a progressive pop sound that's nearly as good as Iona.

The Isle of Tides refers to an island off of the west coast of Britain that once held an abbey. It has long been regarded as a place of Christian pilgrimage, and it's said that a thousand saints are buried there. The album's centerpiece then is a nine-part suite, twenty-three minutes long, which draws on the titular island's history to generally illustrate God's call on our lives. It begins with the vision of God's plan, in this case, the idea of an abbey on an island, sung by a men's choir in Gregorian chant style. From there, "Isle of Tides" follows through with the journey, paved with faith and doubt, eventually surrendering to the still small voice of God and the journey's end. This is impressive stuff, crafted with the care of a classical work (or Genesis' equally lengthy "Supper's Ready") and applying the Celtic pop sound that Eden's Bridge so clearly reveres.

The suite is surrounded by nine other tracks that expand upon the central theme of the title track. "Looking Down" begins the album with the sound of surf and seagulls (very much like Iona), leading into the band's refined Celtic pop ambience. Lyrically, it serves as a worshipful follow-up to the well-known poem "Footprints," expressing a desire to follow Christ's lead in the sand. The inspirational metaphor continues with the extremely traditional Celtic sound of "You Carry Me." Those who know the poem well can readily conclude how the two songs compliment each other thematically, and how they work into the spiritual journey theme of the album.

"Creator of Creation" is vintage Iona, a poetic song of praise to the Trinity who is our refuge and strength. The prayerful "Keep Me Sailing" recognizes God as the driving force of our ships, and "The Earth Waits" refers to Romans 8:22 as we wait for Christ's return to a fallen world. Lyrically inspired by the Carmina Gadelica (hymns and incantations collected from Scotland over the last century), "Open Sea" is driven by a low Irish flute and drum loop to create a calming image that reflects the deep love of God and the peace that passes understanding. The maudlin "Thanks Be to Thee" is like a new hymn similar to "It Is Well With My Soul," encouraging listeners to keep faith in the Lord through all the storms of our life.

Granted, much of Isle of Tides sounds the same over its hour-long journey. Eden's Bridge could stand to vary their sound more from the usual ambient Celtic soundscapes, though the same could be said of Iona at their best. On that note, one might argue that Eden's Bridge is merely an Iona clone with slightly less technical proficiency. While it's true their music isn't original sounding, it's nevertheless a complex and densely constructed sound that's not easily replicated. It's familiar, but it's also relatively unique to the music industry as a whole. From there, Eden's Bridge offers their own stamp of creativity, most notably in the title track and the closing "Boat Song," which simply revolves around the sound of a boat's oars slowly paddling into the distance. The latest from Eden's Bridge is beautiful and haunting, poetic and straightforward, worshipful and contemplative. Provided that you fancy the Celtic pop sound, Isle of Tides is a wonderful album well worth the artistic effort invested into it by this talented group of musicians.