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The Unthanks


Country of origin:

England

Type of music generally:

Alternative evocative/eclectic contemporary folk, both traditional and trad-based

Status:

Most recent release, Diversions, Vol. 3: Songs From the Shipyards (2012)

See also:

The Unthanks' site

The Unthanks' MySpace page

Comparisons:

The Unthanks' music comes somewhere between current "new folk" and traditional and neo-traditional artists like Eliza Carthy and Annie's Brigg, and The Watersons' edgy, dark traditional Yorkshire sound

Covers/own material:

Covers, cowritten, and traditional

General comments:

I love the Unthanks! With Here's The Tender Coming they became one of my favourite bands, but all their albums are really, really good. If you have any intererest in either traditional or new folk (their music is a kind of blend of both playing off each other), I highly recommend them. They blend contemporary sounds with very traditional ones from their native Yorkshire. I love their harmonies and the songs they sing. (Neile)

Here's the Tender Coming was my favourite album of last year and their two previous albums (as Rachel Unthank and the Winterset) are brilliant as well. Rachel Unthank's little sister Becky is more prominently featured on their latest album, though, and I love her voice. She sounds a bit like Natalie Merchant. I love their harmonies, their accent, and their mix of traditional and contemporary songs. I basically listen to them all the time. (christina_skov@hotmail.com)

Comments about live performance:

I saw them live at a lovely little club in Reading. It was a good night. We loved the Unthanks show. Now, that was still when Belinda O'Hooley was with them; we haven't seen the new formation yet. (6/10, Silme@ix.netcom.com)

I saw them live a few months ago, and they were really impressive: energetic and delightful despite the small turnout. It was great to hear the music live, and the clog-dancing was fun, too. "Lucky Gilchrist" was utterly amazing live. (1/11, Neile)

Recommended first album:

Here's the Tender Coming

Recordings:


Cruel Sister

Release info:

2005—Rabble Rouser Music—RR005

Availability:

England

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for fans of traditional and neo-tradiction music

Group members:

Rachel Unthank—vocals, cello
Belinda O'Hooley—piano
Jackie Oates—five-string vocals, vocals
Becky Unthank—vocals

Guest artists:

David Kotsky—guitar (2, 4)
Chris Sherburn—concertina (2, 4)
Mike Hockenbhull—banjo (2)
Rosie Morton—clarsach (4, 11)
Adrian McNally—guitar (6); vocals (13)
George Unthank—vocals (9, 11, 13)
Brian Pearce, Ben Green, Kevin Hall, Colin Mather—vocals (9)
Bryony Griffith—fiddle (9)
Will Hempson—melodeon (9)
Julian Sutton—melodeon (10)
The Keelers, Jim Mageean, Alan Fitzsimmons, Peter Wood—vocals (12)
Pat Unthank, Matt Unthank, June WInton, Gordon Winton, Beth Hardy—vocals (13)

Produced by:

Adiran McNally

Comments:

A singular collection of neo-traditional and traditional songs. Rough-edged and somewhat stark (mostly emotionally) and all the more powerful for it. Has a great cover of "Cruel Sister" which is particularly fun because of the sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank forming the band. A strong debut. (Neile)

The Bairns

Release info:

2997—EMI/Rabble Rouser—5099950438020

Availability:

England

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for fans of traditional and neo-traditional music

Group members:

Rachel Unthank—vocals, cello, ukelele, feet
Becky Unthank—voicals, feet
Belinda O'Hooley—piano, vocals
Niopha Keegan—fiddle, vocals

Guest artists:

Neil Harland—double bass (1)
Julian Sutton—melodion (4, 9)
Iona Brown—violin (1)
Andre Swanepoel—violin (1)
Michael Gerrard—viola (1),
Rosie Biss (cello (1)

Produced by:

Adrian McNally

Comments:

Haunting from the first note of "Felt Lonnin" this is a strong, assured, impressive album. The songs are hushed, sometimes mournful, occasionally turning angry ("Blue Bleezing Blind Drunk"). The tone is mostly heavily emotional though there are humourous and lighter moments, such as the lilting "Blue's Gaen Oot o'the Fashion" and Blackbird", while "Fareweel Regality' is anthemic and the final "Newcastle Lullaby" is a lovely round song that turns into a haunting, more experimental sound. (Neile)

Here's the Tender Coming

Release info:

2009—Rough Trade/Rabble Rouser—RTRADCD548 LC-11945

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Rachel Unthank—lead voice (2, 4, 5, 7–10, 12); backing voice (1–4, 6, 8, 9, 11, 12); cello (8); ukulele (10); clogs (12)
Becky Unthank—lead voice (1–3, 6–9, 11, 12); backing voice (1–6, 8, 9, 11, 12); feet (2); autoharp (8)
Niopha Keegan—violin (1, 2, 6, 8, 12); lead voice (2); backing voice (1–5, 11, 12); accordion (8, 12); mandolin (12); string arrangement (6)
Adrian McNally—piano (1–6, 9, 12); dampened piano (1, 3, 12); plucked piano (1, 3, 12); drums (4, 6, 9); marimba (3); chime bars (1, 3, 6, 8, 12); autoharp (1); Wu-Han tam tam (3); Chinese temple gongs (3); tubular bells (2, 3); backing voice (4, 12); string arrangements (1–5, 7–12)
Chris Price—guitar (3, 4, 6, 9, 12); bass (2, 4, 9); ukulele (12); dulcitone (3); marimba (3); backing voice (4, 12)

Guest artists:

Jo Silverston—solo cello (9, 12)
Rosie Biss—quartet cello (4–6, 8, 9, 11)
Mike Gerrard—viola (4–6, 8, 9, 11)
Andre Swanepoel—violin (4–6, 8, 9, 11)
Iona Brown—violin (4–6, 11)
Jenny Chang—violin (8, 9)
Dan Rogers—bowed double bass (8, 11)
Graham Hardy—lead trumpet (8); trumpet (2, 4, 6, 8); flugel horn (6)
Simon Tarrant—lead trumpet (2); trumpet (2, 4, 8)
Chris Hibbard—trombone (4, 8, 12)
Adam Sinclair—drums (2); cymbals (6); shaky egg (6)
Julian Sutton—melodeon (2)
Neil Harland—double bass (6, 12)
Shelley Thomson—backing voice (12)
Jane Pollinger—backing voice (12)

Produced by:

Adrian McNally

Comments:

Here's The Tender Coming is one of my very favourite albums of 2009. Here the use of more contemporary, less traditional techniques is more obvious but they make the blend work so well for them! Here again there's a mix of livelier tunes with haunting, melancholy ones, though the darker songs predominate. "Lucky Gilchrist" is one of the best neo-traditional songs I've ever heard. This is a powerful album that is distinctive in the traditional/neo-traditional field and doesn't ever wear out its welcome. Highly, highy recommended. (Neile)

One of the best albums of the year. (christina_skov@hotmail.com, gordodo@optonline.net)


Last

Release info:

2011—EMI—095 5942

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Rachel Unthank—vocals, kalimba (3)
Becky Unthank—vocals
Niopha Keegan—violin; vocals (1, 5, 8)
Adrian McNally—piano; dulcitone; vocals (1, 4, 5); drums (3, 4, 7)
Chris Price—bass; acoustic and electric guitar; ukulele

Guest artists:

Ros Stephen—violin
Becca Spencer—viola
Jo Silverston—cello
Lizzie Jones—trumpet
Dean Ravera—double blass
Alex Neilson—drums (1, 2, 5)
Julian Sutton—melodeon

Produced by:

Adrian McNally

Comments:

I loved Here's the Tender Coming so much I was sure that Last couldn't live up to it. I am delighted to have been mistaken in that—Last is strong and full of delights as Here's the Tender Coming was. Again the darker and more mournful songs set the tone, from the powerful opener "Gan to the Kye" to the final full track "Close the Coalhouse Door". These are all such gorgeous tunes, simply and beautiful sung. The most upbeat track is the charming "Canny Hobbie Elliott", which Rachel describes as plaful—a pleasant constrast to the generally haunting tone of the album. Though several of the songs are contemporary, including covers of Tom Waits and King Crimson, the album feels utterly traditional and timeless. (Neile)

Here's the Tender Coming must have been a tough act to follow. It was such a stunning album. I like this as well, but I don't love it. All tracks keep sounding too much alike except "Queen of Hearts" which really stands out for me. (christina_skov@hotmail.com)


Diversions, Vol. 1: The Songs of Robert Wyatt and Antony & The Johnsons—Live from the Union Chapel, London

Release info:

2011 (U.K.); 2012—Rough Trade (U.S.)

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended for fans of The Unthanks, Antony, and Robert Wyatt

Group members:

Rachel Unthank—vocals, feet, dulcitone
Becky Unthank—vocals, feet
Adrian McNally—piano on Richard set, drums on Antony set, harmonium, vocals
Chris Price—drums on Robert Wyatt set, electric bass on Antony set, vocals
Niopha Keegan—violin, accordion, vocals

Guest artists:

Ros Stephen—violin, vocals
Becca Spencer—viola, vocals
Jo Silverston—cello, vocals
Lizzie Jones—trumpet, vocals
Dean Rivera—double bass
Jonny Kearney—piano on Antony set

Produced by:

Adrian McNally

Comments:

Though I consider myself a huge Unthanks fan, this leaves me fairly cold, I suppose because I'm not a fan of either Antony or Robert Wyatt. I do appreciate the intensity of the Wyatt tracks, and really like their version of "Sea Song" (which also appears on The Bairns) and especially "the lively "Out of the Blue". I'm sad I don't like this more, but I have a lot of other Unthanks discs to play and love. (Neile)

Diversions, Vol. 2: The Unthanks with Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band

Release info:

2012—Rabblerouser Records

Availability:

U.K.

Ecto priority:

Recommended for fans of The Unthanks

Group members:

Rachel Unthank—vocals
Becky Unthank—vocals
Adrian McNally—piano, vocals; drum (1)
Chris Price—vocals; drums (7); cymbals (1)
Niopha Keegan—vocals

Guest artists:

Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band

Produced by:

Adrian McNally

Comments:

While I do like this one better than Diversions Vol 1., this still isn't an essential Unthanks disc. However, it is a lot of fun, and it's interesting to hear how the brass enhances their sound and what it brings out in the songs. There are several lovely performances here, especially "My Lagan Love" and "Gan To The Kye," and Chris Price's performance on "Queen of Hearts" is a lot of fun. (Neile)

Diversions, Vol. 3: Songs From the Shipyards (2012)

Release info:

2013—Rabblerouser Music

Availability:

U.K.

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for fans of folk/traditional folk and/or of the Unthanks

Group members:

Rachel Unthank—vocals
Becky Unthank—vocals
Niopha Keegan—violin, vocals
Chris Price—vocals, guitar, bass
Adrian McNally—piano, vocals, drum, harmonium

Guest artists:

Julian Sutton—melodeon (7)
Keith Hill—vibraphone (7)

Produced by:

Adrian McNally

Comments:

The Diversions series has been up and down for my tastes, but here is the best so far: a collection of old and new shipyards songs, such as seem made for The Unthanks. A glorious, mournful, sad, and delightful collection. (Neile)


Thanks to JoAnn Whetsell for work on this entry.

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