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coverpic flag England - Full Moon 179 - 04/18/11

The Unthanks
Rabble Rouser Music/EMI Records

Rachel Unthank (mainly voice, occasional strings) has been a profiled English folk artist since the mid 00s. When her husband Adrian McNally (piano, drums and assorted more exotic instruments) and sister Becky (mainly voice) got more and more involved in her group, Rachel Unthank & The Winterset, they changed the name to The Unthanks. We discovered Rachel's third/The Unthanks' first album Here's The Tender Coming (2009) a little too late to put it in our menu here at Luna Kafé. The second and so far last Unthanks album Last, on the other hand, is brand new.

The Unthanks' music has moved substantially from the folk origins. It still stands firmly on the foundation, though. Half of Last is filled with folk tunes, mainly traditional ones from northeast England, arranged by the band. Four are cover versions from very different sources, ranging from Tom Waits ("No One Knows I'm Gone" from Alice, 2002) to King Crimson ("Starless" from Red, 1974)! And the last one, the title track that also comprises a short instrumental reprise, is written by Adrian McNally. The great thing is that all songs glide effortlessly together as an entity. In this respect The Unthanks has developed a unique expression beyond folk music. Several tracks are graced with a string section. Maybe chamber-folk might be proper term if one needs to put them within a genre. Also, a trumpet played by guest Lizzie Jones gives some of the songs a feel towards bethel music of maybe the Salvation Army. It works fine, even for an old atheist like me, because Last includes melodic, beautiful and sincere songs sung by two beautiful, sincere and personal voices. The album is mainly recorded at home in Northumberland. It seems the time for big sound studios are over, at least to produce this kind of music. The sound is crystal clear. No weaknesses here, then. My only minor objection has to be the strings that sometimes threaten to drown the other eclectically played instruments, like piano, guitar, ukulele, dulcitone, kalimba and melodeon.

Last December The Unthanks played two gigs at the Union Chapel in London where they only perfomed songs by Antony And The Johnsons and Robert Wyatt. I guess these songs sounded as typical The Unthanks as the ones on Last. Robert has repaid the hommage with this description of the Unthank sisters & company: 'They are like the morning dew that hasn't steamed off yet, they are fresh and new and I really don't think they know how good they are'.

Last, in this connection doesn't mean the farewell of The Unthanks, but music that's going to last. I concur!

Copyright © 2011 JP e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Unthanks article/review: Diversions Vol. 1, The Songs Of Robert Wyatt And Antony & The Johnsons.

© 2011 Luna Kafé