Iona Lane was brought up in the high country. Living in the Yorkshire Dales, holidaying in Scotland, she thanks her parents for dragging her up hills as a child. Her upbringing has now found its voice in her debut album, Hallival, named after a mountain on the Isle of Rum – or Rùm or Rhum depending on your preference. This is a very Scottish album, recorded near Fort William and featuring three of my favourite Scottish musicians: Jenny Sturgeon, Rachel Newton and Lauren MacColl.
Iona’s music brings with it a feeling of the open air – perhaps recording on the shore of a sea loch has something to do with that – and the opening track, ‘Western Tidal Swell’, is an ode to the Isle of Rum and the titular mountain. It fades away at the end like an ebbing tide which is a lovely touch.
She comes south for the second track, ‘Mary Anning’, the story of the paleontologist who “discovered” the Jurassic Coast. The song concentrates on Mary’s early years and Iona introduces the tongue-twister chorus “she sells seashells on the sea shore” as if to emphasise the point. It is claimed that it was written about Anning but the point is disputed. ‘Tipalt Burn’ is a watercourse in Northumberland and Iona fancifully imagines a conversation between the water and the nearby Hadrian’s Wall with guitar and piano imitating the sound of the flowing burn. ‘May You Find Time’ is a lockdown song co-written with Sol Edwards and Jay Taylor and simply points out the need to think of things that bring happiness.
‘Fingal & Bran’ digs into Scottish and Irish history – these are two standing stones on the Isle of Arran – while ‘Schiehallian’ touches on Scottish science. It’s a good story – look it up; I’m not going to do all the work for you. ‘Schiehallian’ is the album’s second single and you can hear it below. ‘Mermaid’ is based on another Scottish legend and Iona opens the song with a drone on a shruti box. The Mermaid of Loch Assynt is used to explain the singular geology of the area. She is definitely not a silkie.
‘Headspace’ advises the listener to find time to appreciate what they have while ‘Crossroads’ is a love song wrapped up in Scottish and Irish history and is matched by ‘The Poet & The Painter’. The first concerns the banning of traditional music and dance at various times and the second is a protest against cuts in arts education – to me there is a link. Finally, ‘Humankind’ was Hallival’s first single and was written as Covid reared its ugly head for the first time.
Hallival is a most accomplished debut and, while Iona might be lucky with her backing musicians and co-writers she has earned that luck.
Artist’s website: www.ionalane.com
‘Schiehallion’ – official video: