albums of 2008 pt1

er, slightly late to the party, but nothng new there. here's my first stab at the usual end o' year list type thing.

Rachel Unthank and The Winterset - The Bairns

it wasn't so long ago that folk was a four letter word. nowadays it seems to be used to describe anyone who has an acoustic guitar, is a bit sensitive and doesn't use autotuning on their vocals. and it covers a multitude of sins. just take a look at the list of artists on tagged as 'folk'. er, jack johnson? nelly furtado?

to me the word suggests some kind of connection with 'tradition' (i'm being Eurocentric here - American folk is a different thing altogether). so in my possibly slightly warped and definitely simplistic view, nick drake isn't folk, while billy bragg is. whatever, the unthank sisters most definitely are folk by anyone's reckoning (except maybe the most hardcore of purists). ok, so they cover robert wyatt and will oldham (more on that later) and replace the guitar with piano, but they tick all the right boxes; songs sung in regional accents, directly and simply. songs about having your true love press ganged into nelson's navy, lost maidenhood, dying children, domestic violence and getting pissed.


but it's their cover of wyatt's 'sea song' that really does it for me and where they show how good they really are. the original is so perfect and so much wyatt's song that it resists interpretation by anyone else. in fact, tears for fears had the gall to try it back in the eighties. i'm not exaggerating too much when i say that they didn't so much cover it as stunned it with a brick, nailed it to the floor and then repeatedly sodomised it. but the unthanks' treatment of it is sublime; unforced, exquisitely arranged (particularly the violin part, which references a lot of wyatt's vocal improvising on the original) and becky unthank's vocal is equally wondrous. and she's only 20. sheesh.

the rest of the album is just as good. the closing. almost ambient collage of lullabies punctuated with abstract deep space piano is so gorgeous it's almost hard to listen to it. as mr wyatt says..."They are like the morning dew that hasn't steamed off yet, they are fresh and new and I really don't think they know how good they are".

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