Mention the bagpipes, and almost every non-player will be generous if they use the word "quirky." But the pipes, particularly in the hands of a talented and sensitive artist like Kathryn Tickell can be as expressive as any tool available. Tickell has been crossing the Northumbrian borders for a decade now, and her work has ranged from the adamantly traditional to the outer fringes. As a piper and as a fiddler, she has explored a uniquely English music and given it a northern flair that sets it apart from many of the other Brit folk innovators of the last decade or two. The Gathering presents Tickell in a small trio with bass and guitar (and notably, no drums or percussion), tightly arranged and trimmed, and shows off her considerable skills on both instruments in traditional tunes and a few more lavish numbers. The band provides crisp backing, joined occasionally by a piano. Two tracks include appearances by the harmonica of the phenomenal Brendan Power, one a roaring, bluesy pipe and harp duet first heard on the Real World live album, The Gathering (same name, different album), the other a stately wedding march. Tickell has always been one of my favorite unknowns (here in the U.S., anyway), and she deserves wider recognition for her work. - CF
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