“Mount The Air” is the latest album by Tyneside folk act, The Unthanks.
Founded in 2004, as Rachel Unthank & The Winterset, the heart of The Unthanks comprises sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank. Seven years younger than her sister, Becky’s name was omitted from the group’s original name as she was, at 17, unsure if she wanted to pursue music full time. The group changed their name to The Unthanks in 2009, prior to the release of the third album.
Following their fourth album, “Last”, in 2011 came a series of three albums under the heading “Diversions”. The first volume was a live showcase solely for material penned by Robert Wyatt of Soft Machine and by Antony Hegarty of Antony & The Johnsons.
Volume two saw the group teaming up with the Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band for new arrangements of existing and new Unthanks material, recorded in concert, and the third instalment was “Songs From The Shipyards”, recorded to soundtrack a documentary about the history of shipbuilding in the North East.
The group have gradually moved from their more traditional folk sounds to more experimental waters. Taking folk as their starting point, they now often utilise strings and brass instruments, resulting in a unique and quite haunting sound. The sisters’ voices really do compliment each other beautifully.
The opening track on this new record, the title track, takes a traditional tune and with some jazzy trumpet echoing Miles Davis and “Sketches From Spain” is transformed into a ten minute masterpiece by multi-instrumentalist and musical director Adrian McNally, who is also Rachel’s husband.
One of the best tracks, vocally, is the sublime “Magpie” which features wonderful harmony singing over a drone-like backing.
A second ten minute track is present, in the shape of “Foundling”, which tells the story of the Foundling Hospital, a refuge set up by Thomas Coram in the 1740s for children whose family poverty and circumstances would otherwise have seen them end up on the streets. Moving and beautiful indeed, a sentiment that could easily apply to this whole record.
There are a couple of instrumental numbers, “For Dad” and the closing “Waiting”. Both are very good, but I did miss the vocals which are so delicate and expressive throughout the rest of the album. That, though, is a minor reservation.
As a whole, listening to the record from start to finish is to be taken on a wonderful musical journey. It’s hard to convey in words what The Unthanks sound like – so it’s probably best to listen and quite literally let the music do the talking…
“Mount The Air” tracklist:
1. Mount The Air / 2. Madam / 3. Died For Love / 4. Flutter / 5. Magpie / 6. Foundling / 7. Last Lullaby / 8. Hawthorn / 9. For Dad / 10. The Poor Stranger / 11. Waiting