Review by Eugenia Vela.
What is it about England? Seriously. If there’s one thing I’ve considered a personal injustice, it’s not having been born in England. In my mind it’s always been a place where things are born and grow up to be, let’s just say it: lovely. They’ve got freakin’ everything—from Shakespeare to Dickens, to Beckham and The Beatles, to Hogwarts, Peter Pan and even Kate Moss. Leave something awesome for the rest of the world, will ya. And in this particular case, we take a little road trip to the North East of England, to Northumberland, home of The Unthanks.
Sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank appear to have come out of a storybook. Their fourth album, Last, may be the storybook from which they come. Creators of traditional English folk, The Unthanks may not seem like something one would care to listen to today. Let’s be blunt: each song, each story, speaks of things most of us can’t relate to. Their music almost seems to fall into a pit of obscurity that dates back to the late 1800s, and even though currently facing a surge of modern folk rock—Mumford and Sons, for example—we don’t really listen to actual folk. Do we?
Well, after listening to Last—that is, if you’re not already a Unthanks fan—you will. Rachel and Becky sing the way we know people recording albums today should be singing. There’s unbelievable beauty in each line, so strong and delicate and overwhelmingly alive. Last opens with “Gan To The Kye,” a song that reveals, both through its lyrics and music, mystery and drama, like every other song from the album. This quality may turn off some listeners, mainly because at times it seems you’re watching a Broadway musical.
Though the album doesn’t have much variety, it simply is what it is. A series of great melodies, complete with violin, piano and ukelele that bring life to each song, give spice to the girls’ alluring voices, and everything just falls into place. I realize now that although the banjo folk rock bands use might be entertaining because it makes it seem we’re not listening to ordinary rock, it’s not the essence of folk. It’s a sort of mythic trend that we’ve slowly given into. The Unthanks is traditional folk that has the ability to appeal to so many listeners, because in the end, it’s pure beauty. Just listen to the opening violin in “Close The Coalhouse Door” and I mean, c’mon, who the hell doesn’t want that?
For more hardrock folk, play “My Laddie Sits Ower Late Up” and “Canny Hobby Elliot” and I gotta admit some people might laugh. Even through its pretty melodies, listeners might get lost in the crazy reality that there actually is music like this out in the world. It’s different, it’s kind of magical, humorous and at the same time, it works. So of course, it had to come from England.
Listen to “Queen of Hearts” from Last below and download here: