Plumbiferous Media

Here’s the Tender Coming – The Unthanks

Apr 1st 2010
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Here's the Tender Coming - The UnthanksThe Unthanks
Here's the Tender Coming
Score: 73

UK group The Unthanks, founded by sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank as Rachel Unthank & The Winterset in 2004, released their third album, Here’s the Tender Coming, in the US last Tuesday. With Here’s the Tender Coming, The Unthanks takes its well-honed folk stylings and deftly applies them to an assortment of gorgeously imagined tracks – largely covers, with a few exceptions written by the group. Though Here’s the Tender Coming has weak sections, the best parts of the album are nothing less than excellent – a combination of traditional and modern that epitomizes the best of folk.

Perhaps the best way to classify The Unthanks is as orchestral folk. The ever-present piano is constantly cut with violins, among other strings, as well as the occasional brass entrance, all arranged in an almost classical manner. But while the style stays remarkably consistent over most of the album, the quality of execution varies to a significant degree. Fortunately, the worst it ever gets is dull. So while many tracks are extremely interesting, there are still a healthy number that are boring enough that the entire album is, to a certain degree, undercut.

Being undercut though, is the best of Here’s the Tender Coming: a rich, extremely vibrant, yet careful and highly planned arangement of instruments all supporting, and occasionally carrying the melody. The entrance of brass always signals the more lively, deeper parts of the album, including the outstanding fully instrumental section of the opening track, as well as “Lucky Gilchrist” and “Flowers of the Town.” But at the same time, many slower, more sparsely orchestrated sections are equally excellent. Here’s the Tender Coming is a great example of an album that sticks solidly within its narrow genre while still providing a diverse musical experience.

The sisters Unthank share vocal duties on Here’s the Tender Coming, their rich voices (and thick Geordie accents) lending huge emotional depth to the already deep songs. Both tell even the most dismal stories of the album with an impressive power, and characters such as the child miner lamenting on “The Testimony of Patient Kershaw” are thankfully given the full life they deserve. And luckily, it works just as well on the amusing anectodal snippets, such as “Where’ve Yer Bin Dick,” which, as simple as it is, uses vocal harmony (though perhaps not as perfectly as on “At First She Starts”) to great effect.

The Unthanks’ use of historic and traditional songs lends their music a sense of age that’s quite complimentary to their particular sort of modern-traditional folk, and the band handles the often weighty subject matter well. There’s still some upbeat charm even in songs like “Lucky Gilchrist,” the band’s memorial to a friend, and that makes the loss all the more intimate. Both vocally and lyrically, Here’s the Tender Coming is beautifully done. Unfortunately, it’s not always as interesting musically as the sisters’ voices would merit.

Here’s the Tender Coming is a truly beautiful album. The Unthanks take us through a web of delicate songs, active songs, the extremely dark, and the inanely light. The problem though, is that tracks sometimes sound all too simple, not quite suitable for such an otherwise well-developed album. Still, The Unthanks pulls off the very simple nearly as well as it does the intensely deep, and the album doesn’t suffer all that much. Overall, Here’s the Tender Coming is still a very good album.

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