THE UNTHANKS – Diversions Vol. 1 - The Songs of Robert Wyatt
                                           and Anthony And The Johnsons (RabbleRouser)

You must know by now that I love The Unthanks, and so I just had to have this album, even though it looked a bit different to their other releases. Now I don’t mind that all of these songs are covers, as most of their stuff is anyway, although normally of traditional songs. But this time they have gone for modern songs, and have picked two of this country’s most idiosyncratic songwriters in Robert Wyatt and Anthony Hegarty. The recording itself is a compilation of two live concerts held in London’s Union Chapel in December 2010, and thinking about it that really is the best way that these songs could be presented. The performances are flawless, with the girls voices at their very best, and Adrian McNally’s arrangements bringing out the beauty of these mostly subdued ballads. If you were ever put off by Hegarty’s vocals – as I have to admit that I was – then his songs now shine and can be heard for the superb pieces that they are. A song like his ‘You Are My Sister’ could sound weird when actually sung by two sisters, but in Rachel and Becky’s hands it is just a lovely piece of music. Hegarty’s ‘For Today I Am A Boy’ is another standout piece, mostly accompanied by just piano and the barest hint of strings, you would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the performance. ‘Spiralling’ ends the Hegarty part of the performance, and if nothing else I come out of it with a renewed respect for his songwriting. I am more familiar with the Wyatt songs, having a number of his albums, and counting his ‘Old Rottenhat’ as one of my all-time favourites. I was therefore really looking forward to hearing their interpretations of his work. From the outset I was not disappointed, with ‘Stay Tuned’ having a denser sound than the Hegarty songs due to the addition of violin and trumpet to the band. ‘Dondestan’ is the first time that the band break sweat, leading the audience in a rousing clap-along to this jaunty Wyatt piece. ‘Lullaby For Hamza’ is totally at the other end of the spectrum, with this haunting ballad being accompanied by just piano and muted trumpet, and Wyatt’s classic ‘Sea Song’ is stretched out to a stately seven minutes, and is enhanced by some lovely violin from Niopha Keegan. As far as I am concerned The Unthanks can do no wrong, and so while at first I was puzzled at what exactly this album would sound like, I needn’t have worried, as it is just another superb addition to their growing body of work as this country’s finest folk group. As good as this is, I would not recommend it to the beginner – for that you must get ‘Here’s The Tender Coming’ and then work your way through their catalogue, before becoming as big a fan as I am.


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