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After the firmly traditional Northumberland Collection
and the fine band she assembled for last year's Debatable Lands
, Kathryn Tickell has joined forces with a new group of collaborators under the Ensemble Mystical banner. Regular melodeon player Julian Sutton is on board alongside the Poozies' Mary MacMaster (vocals and harp), avant-early-music type John Kenny and cellist Ron Shaw. If the resulting musical backdrop was not different enough, Tickell has largely abandoned her Northumbrian pipes in favour of the fiddle, only playing pipes on four of the album's 11 tracks. They have been replaced, however, by a wealth of new sounds, including Kenny's brass, the wild-sounding carnyx (a 2,000-year-old Scottish horn) and, perhaps most notably, the human voice. McMaster takes the lead on three songs, with Tickell making her singing debut on "The Corn Fiddler" and "The Burning Babe". The combination of harp, violin and cello is exquisite throughout and the album emerges as easily the best of Kathryn's career. A perfect introduction for the uninitiated and a welcome progression for everyone else. --Phil Udell