CD: Rachel Unthank and the Winterset, The Bairns

(EMI/Rabble Rouser)

If Fairport Convention's recent revival of their classic Liege and Lief album was a reminder of how English traditional music was radically transformed in the 1960s, then Rachel Unthank shows how the process is still continuing. She's a singer from the north-east, with a pronounced Geordie accent. And she reworks folk songs and new songs with a style that switches between bleak, charming, and unexpectedly intense and theatrical. She gets lead billing, but her all-female band play an equally important role, matching her compelling vocals with sparse piano and fiddle, harmony work or passages that veer towards free jazz. They bring an angry, dramatic setting to a well-known piece such as I Wish, move between chilling a cappella work and instrumental experimentation on My Donald, and add sturdy new settings to Robert Wyatt's Sea Song or the chorus from Bonnie "Prince" Billy's A Minor Place. One of the folk records of the year.


Robin Denselow

The GuardianTramp

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