The Unthanks. Diversions Vol. 5 – Live And Unaccompanied

live-and-unaccompanied-albums264973638One of the most inventive groups currently working in the UK folk field, The Unthanks are somewhat unique in their ability to conjure up a sound which seems as ancient as the oldest oaks in the land while also being experimental and celebrating the likes of Robert Wyatt’s jazzpoetry. Their catalogue is peppered with diversions as when they decided to record an album of songs written by Nick Drake’s mother but throughout it all, one thing stands out, their glorious singing. This disc showcases those voices, Becky and Rachel Unthank with Niopha Keegan completing the trio. Recorded live over several concerts, the trio sing unaccompanied, conjoined throughout and sounding by turns traditional, spooky and occasionally humorous. The best moments are chilling as myths and legends and old, old folk tales are sung deliciously. Fans of The Wickerman and of those 1970’s kids’ programmes which had eldritch theme songs will be well delighted by what’s on offer here.

It’s not all weird sisters singing as they dig into their local roots for the earthy Geordie Wedding Suite, sung magnificently in local dialect, while Where’ve Yer Bin Dick is a very short and wonderfully silly street song. However, the meat of the album is in those moments when the three singers send shivers down the spine. Magpie is perhaps best known via its inclusion on the Beeb’s Detectorists and they deliver a grand version here. Griesly Bride, originally an Australian poem, is wintry and chilling with a lycanthropic twist while Karan Casey’s Weary of Lying Alone seems to have been dredged from a misty peat bog. Maenwhile they wring out all of the melancholy and loss of Molly Drake’s Poor Mum but perhaps the best moment of the album is the stupendous We Picked Apples In The Graveyard, a song by Richard Dawson. With its bucolic lyrics tinged with menace, it’s just wonderful. They swing into a powerful Bread And Roses and close the album with an even more powerful moment as their audience joins in on Farewell Shanty before an ambient hum fades the song out.

Live And Unaccompanied can’t be faulted. An apacella album of folk songs might seem a hard sell but let it in to your life and you’ll be well rewarded. Simply superb.

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