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Album Review

This second album from Rachel Unthank & the Winterset, following the group's highly praised debut, is a record that demands several plays to understand. It starts off in uncompromising fashion, as the first verse of "Felton Lonnin" is in Northumbrian dialect so deep as to be virtually incomprehensible to an outsider (and Unthank's wavering vocal isn't exactly embracing). But the song opens up, and it sets the tone well for the rest of the disc. It's very much a folk record — most of the songs are traditional — but it takes chances. "Blue's Gaen Oot o'the Fashion" is a patchwork of snippets taken from several different songs, while "Lull III: A Minor Place" simply uses the chorus from Bonnie Prince Billy's song of the same name. There are some contemporary folk songs, one from bandmember Belinda O'Hooley, but the most ambitious track has to be a cover of Robert Wyatt's "Sea Song." Always a very personal piece, it's one that doesn't lend itself easily to interpretation, especially by an acoustic group, but Becky Unthank does an excellent job on the vocal, while the arrangement, neatly subdued, is sympathetic and true to the feel of the original. It's rare to hear a folk group where piano stands as the central instrument (the fiddle often feels like it's there in a supporting role), but they make it work, and when the sisters harmonize in their singing, it can be quite sublime. Time will shake off the hype that's attended them over the last couple of years, but this is a band with real spark and invention.

Biography

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '00s

Steeped in the musical heritage and folklore so abundant in the northeast of England, Rachel Unthank and her younger sister Becky found a fresh way of presenting the songs, stories, and customs of their home area around Ryton, Newcastle, to a young new audience. Oddly given their rich traditional credentials and proud determination to show off the pure roots of their music, they quickly gained acceptance and acclaim beyond the established folk scene, yet were initially regarded with suspicion by...
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The Bairns, Rachel Unthank
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