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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