The Unseen Stream 
Artist: Troy Donockley 
Label: Alliance Music (UK) 
Time: 8 tracks/47:41 

Iona is on sabbatical this year, and the various band members are working on a variety of other musical projects while resting and preparing a new album. Troy Donockley plays the various woodwind instruments and pipes, and so it is not surprising that they are prominent in this, his first solo recording. 

The sound was described in the publicity for the album as "Cumbrian folk music," and that seems as good a term as any. This is not pure Celtic music, incorporating influences from classical ("Finlandia," a Sibelius composition, is covered) and progressive music, and some folk music from places south of the Highlands. The fourth song, "The Yearl," almost seems like a focal track for the album, due to its length and its placement near the middle of the CD. Over  fourteen minutes, it moves from laidback and string-driven to urgent and piano-led, and back again, and from there to a more ethereal sound, before building to a more open piano and acoustic guitar-led section, a crescendo, and 
back to a moody ending on the piano. The changes of tempo and time keep the listener interested and give it a strongly progressive feel, but without much use of  electric guitars or keyboards--I just wish I could work out the time signatures. The track is apparently named for a stream where Donockley played as a child (there's a photo in the album sleeve) and the music could suggest the flow of a stream as it moves from calm gentle brook, to rapids, through gentle stretches, joining with more streams, and onwards. 
 
There is quite a variety of musicians involved with this project. Terl Bryant and Joanne Hogg, two of Donockley's Iona colleagues, join him, as do a string quartet, harpist, organist, pianist, and a host of others. The textures are delicately built up, the vocals are used to accentuate the songs rather than to pronounce lyrics, and the musicianship is first-class (what else can you expect from anything Iona-related?). 

No other track reaches the fourteen minutes of "The Yearl," with four of them less than four minutes. Each of them is unique, yet they flow together well.The shortest track, "Sights," is well-focused and textured, and is probably my favourite. Terl Bryant's gentle percussion underpins the track and gives it a slightly understated feel. Unfortunately, as the album progresses the feeling comes that in its ethereal nature the album has perhaps gone too far, and a slightly stronger hand in the production would have looked for more focus to keep the listener as captivated as many passages deserve. 

Iona fans will want this album in their collections--the various musicians involved in Iona seem to be building up a selection of albums that explore in greater depth the various tributaries that combine to form the band's sound, and this particular tributary makes for a beautiful and often captivating exploration. Next time Donockley comes to record an album, however, a slightly stronger production hand and sense of direction would almost certainly provide an even better album. 

By  James Stewart