THE UNTHANKS – Last (Rabble Rouser)

For the band that first alerted me to the burgeoning underground folk movement in the UK I owe a debt of gratitude, and with their third album just out they show that they are still one of the most authentic and inventive bands of their genre. Never a group to play down their Northern roots, they shove it in your face right from the opening track ‘Gan To The Kye’. The song itself is a mournful ballad, which is just the type of song at which the girls excel, and the sparing use of strings just emphasises the sadness of the piece. ‘The Gallowgate Lad’ is another traditional song brought up to date with new lyrics by Joe Wilson, and Becky and Rachel give it their all in the vocal department to bring out the poignancy of the song. The great thing about The Unthanks is the way that they choose the songs they record, with the traditional ‘Queen Of Hearts’ sitting alongside a cover of Tom Waits’ ‘No-one Knows I’m Gone’ and neither sounding out of place. They also write their own material, with the title track being penned by Adrian McNally, and fitting in perfectly with the rest of the material. ‘Give Away Your Heart’ is by up and coming British songwriter Jon Redfern, and although lyrically it is quite simplistic it has a nice tune and as with all the other songs on here, it slots in perfectly. A couple of traditional Northern songs follow, in ‘My Laddie Sits Ower Late Up’ and ‘Canny Hobbie Elliot’, with the former being a lovely slow ballad and the latter a more jaunty piece on banjo and violin. And on the subject of unusual covers, I thought I recognised the tune to ‘Starless’, even though it was played on a trumpet and had something of a brass band feel to it, but I could not believe that they had decided to cover a King Crimson song – and one from their ‘difficult’ period as well. On checking the writing credits it is confirmed to be that very song from KC’s 1974 ‘Red’ album, and a stunning version they do of it as well, with it quickly becoming one of my favourites of the album. A respectful seven minute take on Alex Glasgow’s ‘Close The Coalhouse Door’ leads into a reprise of the title track and then it is all over. There are fewer up-beat tunes on here than on their last couple of albums, so you really have to be in the mood to appreciate it, but if you are prepared to stop what you are doing, sit down and really listen to the songs you will be rewarded all the more. The Unthanks were one of the first of the new wave of UK folk bands, and this album proves that they are also still one of the best.