Label: Rabble Rouser Music – RRM011
Released: 05 Nov 2012
Genre: Folk, World, & Country
The Unthanks, an evolution in naming of the previously Rachel Unthank and The Winterset comprise of Adrian McNally, Becky Unthank, Niopha Keegan and Rachel Unthank and this is their sixth studio release since their debut, 2005’s Cruel Sister, but to set it apart from their early material it is the 3rd installment of a series of albums released over the past year called Diversions, the 2 previous in the series being a live recording from the Union Chapel, London of covers of Anthony & The Johnson’s and Robert Wyatt songs, the other, another studio album this time with Brighouse And Rastrick Brass Band, so a very different feel to each album and maybe a clue to why they are called Diversions.
Vol 3 sees The Unthanks come back to their homeland the North East of England with songs penned by local songwriters Jez Lowe, Alex Glasgow, Johnny Handle, Graeme Miles & the band themselves all centered around the life of those who worked, lived and played around the shipyards on the Tyne River. The album was a commission from Tyneside Cinema to back their film, Songs From The Shipyards directed by Richard Fenwick, hence the title and theme of the album. Richard and The Unthanks worked closely from the start of the project so the songs act as an extra narrative to the ups and downs of the North East shipbuilding industry, though now the soundtrack has been released as a stand alone audio album and thats what I have reviewed here.
The first thing that hits you about the sound of this collection of songs is the very sparse and atmospheric feel to the music, only piano, fiddle and/or guitar are to be heard on most tracks pushing the two Unthank sisters singing to fore, making this a very traditional Folk piece with lyrical content being the main focal point, though that is not to say say the music is playing second fiddle, as they say, as it certainly underpins the sentiments wonderfully.
Drawing from the folksongs of the North East of England the Unthank sisters rather sonorous vocals conjure up a very vivid picture of the life and times of the people, shipyards and famous river. The song themes range from the making of the ships to the life and relationships of the workers to the produce that the big steamers bring into the ports and with some exerts from the film playing away in the background again you are transported to a world many of us will never experience. The centre piece to the album is the Adrian McNally penned track, The Romantic Tees which was written to accompany a part of the film called Launch, its split into 3 parts, an evocative piece of music that starts as a backdrop to spoken word and the sounds of the dockyards and an actual launch which grows into two different songs sung by the girls. This a collection of songs that takes us imaginatively back to the heyday of the bustling shipbuilding industry, the sound is beautifully atmospheric, almost haunting in tone as it brings back to life a world that is slowly slipping from memory, but never feels twee or overly sentimental. The Unthanks music and especially the vocals add a lyrical weight to the subject matter bringing it to life in front of you, as I imagine any great collection of Folk songs should do.
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