Here's The Tender Coming
Released in September 2009, The Unthanks' Here's The Tender Coming is their first album under the new band moniker. (Previous releases were as Rachel Unthank & The Winterset.)
After the previous The Bairns, Here's The Tender Coming is a delightfully lighter shade of dark, but the intensity remains. What remains, above all, are the exquisite vocals and harmonies of two of the bonniest of Geordie lasses, Rachel and Becky Unthank, always in the foreground where they belong. The instrumentation may be more complex, and includes drum and bass now, and a string section and brass, but rather than being allowed to overwhelm this is made to blend perfectly into the Winterset / Unthank sound. Despite being more elaborate, the arrangements actually come across as often quite minimalist, and therein lies their genius.
The material of Here's The Tender Coming is the customary, outstanding Unthank mix of traditional folk material drawn principally from the Northumbrian and Border traditions, songs written in the folk idiom, and here, one solitary original, contributed by Rachel Unthank's husband and pianist and producer Adrian McNally, Lucky Gilchrist. A celebration of the life of a close friend of the elder Unthank sister who died the previous year, this latter song is among the lighter selections on this album. It also has the distinction of being the most 'experimental,' innovative track, with perhaps the most elaborate arrangement, and its sheer power and beauty make it fit this album like hand in glove.
The Unthanks are without doubt the most exciting, fresh and refreshing thing to have happened on the British folk scene in well over a generation. Sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank deserve to be considered national treasures for the new life they have breathed into the folk scene with their judicious blend of the traditional with the contemporary and even experimental while always maintaining greatest respect for the tradition, and the delight their singular vocals and their love and enthusiasm of the music have brought us for the past six or seven years now. Surely, Here's The Tender Coming only further cements their right to this title.
One of the best aspects of this album is that, in spite of the more elaborate instrumentation, it manages to preserve all the charm, excitement and sheer glory of an Unthanks live performance. All the emotional intensity you'd expect is there. And that, of course, includes much of the sadness inherent in much of the material. But Here's The Tender Coming is not all bleak and dark, and there are lighter touches in the shape of the delightful closer, Betsy Bell, and Where've Yer Bin Dick?, Not Much Luck In Our House, and the previously mentioned Lucky Gilchrist, for example.
What always stands out, whether on their previous two albums or in live performances, or here, is the Unthank siblings' supreme story-telling ability that is utterly spellbinding. This is further enhanced by their superb diction, even when a gentle, delightful Geordie accent comes to the fore. The Unthanks bring tradition to life, they make the old sound fresh and new and the new sound traditional.
At times, Here's The Tender Coming reveals echoes of another national treasure, the great Robert Wyatt - a long-time admirer, incidentally - particularly on Living By The Water and At First She Starts.
The tender of the title and title track - as should become obvious from the latter's lyrics to those not familiar with the term in this context - is a kind of prison ship used during the Napoleonic wars to hold men press-ganged into service.
As beautifully consistent as it is consistently beautiful, Here's The Tender Coming is an exquisite work of art that is not just compelling but utterly mesmerising and enchanting, delivered with great style and charm. As innovative as it is mindful of tradition, this is a devastatingly gorgeous, stirring album that is completely irresistible.
No serious folk collection of any kind could ever be complete without The Unthanks' Here's The Tender Coming. As exquisite as their previous efforts were, this manages to surpass them and is an absolute must-have!
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Rachel Unthank - vocals, cello, ukelele, feet (clogs)
Becky Unthank - vocals, autoharp, feet (clogs)
Niopha Keegan - fiddle, accordion, mandolin, vocals
Adrian McNally - piano, drums, dulcitone, marimba, autoharp, tuned percussion, vocals
Chris Price - guitar, bass, ukelele, dulcitone
Andre Swanepoel - violin (tracks 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11)
Iona Brown - violin (tracks 4, 5, 6, 11)
Jenny Chang - violin (tracks 8, 9)
Mike Gerrard - viola (tracks 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11)
Jo Silverston - cello (tracks 9, 12)
Rosie Bliss - cello (tracks 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11)
Dan Rogers - double bass (tracks 8, 11)
Neil Harland - double bass (tracks 6, 12)
Graham Hardy - trumpet (tracks 2, 4, 6, 8), flugelhorn (track 6)
Simon Tarrant - trumpet (tracks 2, 4, 8)
Chris Hibbard - trombone (tracks 4, 8, 12)
Jane Pollinger - backing vocals (track 12)
Shelley Thomson - backing vocals (track 12)
Adam Sinclair - drums (track 2), cymbal (track 6)