The Hanging Stars are close to perfection on a magnificent album which just about defines “cosmic country”
From the moment The Hanging Stars glide gently into the perfumed garden which is ‘Ava’, the opening song on their fourth album, you know that you are in for a treat. When this reviewer wrote about ‘A New Kind Of Sky’, their previous disc, released in 2020, we ended by saying that the album was, “Just sublime and is certainly The Hanging Stars’ crowning achievement.” It’s safe to say that on ‘Hollow Heart’ they have surpassed that achievement, creating an album which builds on the cosmic country and Laurel Canyon vibes of the previous album, vibes now honed to near perfection and fully realised on this spectacular listen. Recorded at Edwyn Collins’ Clashnarrow Studios in the remote north east of Scotland, reportedly an Aladdin’s cave of vintage analogue recording gear, the album is a sonic delight. It’s a wonderfully warm and vivid listen, which, on headphones, is a truly immersive psychedelic experience. There are moments which are quite gobsmackingly good – the brief organ waft at the end of ‘Radio On’, the glowering introduction to ‘Hollow Eyes, Hollow Heart’ and Edwyn Collins’ ghostly presence via some spoken words on ‘Rainbows In Windows’ – all come to mind but, in essence, the whole album is quite sumptuous.
Opening with the dramatic and billowing ‘Ava’, a song with oodles of gliding cosmic guitars and heavenly harmonies, we have the band dragging the likes of CSN&Y into the 21st Century. ‘Black Light Night‘ has a darker hue but it’s still imbued with those harmonies while the guitar solo and mellotron are slightly reminiscent of Neil Young’s anthemic ‘Like A Hurricane’. So far, so good, but the following song, ‘Weep & Whisper’ takes the band to another level as layers and layers of rippling guitars and keening pedal steel, allied to, again, those harmonies, just mesmerise. Imagine, if you can, the band America joining The Grateful Dead and then multiply that by at least tenfold and you’re still nowhere near how good this song sounds. This multi-layered tapestry of sonic delight also abounds on the blissful ‘Ballad Of Whatever Might Be’ and reaches its apogee on the fuzz fuelled ‘I Don’t Want To Feel So Bad Anymore’ which captures a frantic Byrds like frenzy and chains it to a Chocolate Watchband like buzz. Quite brilliant.
Throw in the sluggish undertow of ‘Radio On’ with its curdled cream pedal steel, the dark essence of ‘Hollow Eyes, Hollow Heart’ with its nod to UK psychedelic folk, and the California psych pop merry go round which is ‘You’re So Free’ and you have an album which just about beggars description. A sure contender for end of the year lists, ‘Hollow Heart’ is, quite simply, quite brilliant.