Album Review / Kathryn Tickell & The Darkening: Hollowbone

The year has reached only April and excellent albums keep poppin’ up – brilliant! Even given the high quality of new Celtic and British folk/trad music, this one will climb very, very high on my year’s best list, I’m sure.

I have previously checked out Kathryn Tickell’s solo work (she was previously a member of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra community) only briefly but will definitely travel through her entire discography; her previous album, The Water of Tyne (2016) was marvelous but stylistically nothing like this new creation.

As her web site informs us, Hollowbone digs into the deep past of Northumbrian songs, rhymes and culture for its inspiration and material. Even the album’s title refers to a musical/shamanistic instrument, so we’re in essentially Pagan territory as far as the mindset is concerned.

But this no dusty exhibition of Ye Olde Umbrian Culture. Tickell and The Darkening weave a rich, suggestive and varied aural web where the past and the present effortlessly intertwine: Northumbrian pipes battle with heavy metal guitars and multilayered vocals (reminiscent of Ange Hardy‘s trademark style) dance in circles with the full drum set.

The tone and the style changes from song to song – sometimes within a song – but the overall effect is very coherent. It seems Tickell and the band have created a universe of their own, where old elements are given new life at the whimsy and talent of the artists involved. Which, by the way, I think old folk and trad music is basically all about: giving your meaning and form to existing, more or less collectively owned material.

It’s an exhilarating album that surprises you at almost every turn and impresses with its mastery of very different moods and expressions, from the hi-energy beat of the opening O-U-T Spells Out to the prog rock tricky, hypnotic web of Nemesis and finally the serene meditation of Holywell Pool. My special favorites are the multifaceted Morpeth and Old Stones / Holy Island Jig that carries the ancient vibe its title suggest.

All in all, one heck of an album that breaks down the barriers of time in the most satisfying way. Nothing hollow here – go get it.
Hollowbone is available at kathryntickell.com, Amazon and the services where the music, as they say, streams.

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