The Unthanks: Sorrows Away review – from ponderous to airborne

(Rabble Rouser)
After assorted diversions, the sibling duo and co release a straight-up album of traditional songs and self-written work

The Tyneside group have secured an enviable position among British folk acts: beloved of the faithful but recognisable to casual listeners. Much is in part down to the distinctive sibling harmonies of sisters Rachel and Becky and to the Northumbrian tradition they champion, be it tales of Royal Navy press gangs or tributes to the region’s industrial past; here, for example, Rachel has an original song called The Isabella Colliery Coke Ovens. The group have played their hand cannily in other ways, bringing ambitious arrangements to their work – an outing with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra included – and exploring so-called “Diversions” – albums of songs of the shipyard, Robert Wyatt, Molly Drake; another with the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band – plus soundtracks for revamped children’s TV favourite Worzel Gummidge.

The Unthanks don’t falter on what is their first “proper” album in seven years, though the nine minutes of the Sandgate Dandling Song, a Victorian ballad about domestic violence, inclines to the ponderous. They are better when airborne, as on The Old News or Royal Blackbird, a Jacobite song given a lively violin arrangement. The much sung Waters of Tyne is an obvious standout, as is the title track, which has become an anthem on the group’s ongoing tour.

Watch a video for The Old News by the Unthanks.

Contributor

Neil Spencer

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The Unthanks: Lines review – national treasures sing Emily Brontë and Maxine Peake
(Rabble Rouser)

Neil Spencer

17, Feb, 2019 @8:00 AM

The Unthanks: Songs from the Shipyards – review
The Unthanks' soundtrack to a documentary about shipyards evokes the grime of a bygone era, writes Neil Spencer

Neil Spencer

27, Oct, 2012 @11:12 PM

Article image
The Unthanks: The Songs and Poems of Molly Drake review – a natural fit
(RabbleRouser)

Neil Spencer

21, May, 2017 @7:00 AM

The Unthanks: Last – review
The British folk troupe are on imperious form on their mournful fourth album, says Neil Spencer

Neil Spencer

13, Mar, 2011 @12:04 AM

Article image
The Unthanks | live music review
Kitty Empire stamps along to an austere tale of northern folk

Kitty Empire

05, Jun, 2010 @11:06 PM

Article image
The Unthanks: Mount the Air review – more voices please
The Tyneside folk stars’ latest album fails to play to their strengths

Neil Spencer

08, Feb, 2015 @8:00 AM

The Unthanks: The Songs of Robert Wyatt and Antony & the Johnsons – review
The Unthanks' folk interpretations of the canons of Antony Hegarty and Robert Wyatt prove a surprisingly good fit, writes Neil Spencer

Neil Spencer

20, Nov, 2011 @12:05 AM

The Unthanks With Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band: Diversions Vol 2 – review
In the Unthanks' latest collaboration, the sisters' vocals support the brass of a colliery band, writes Kitty Empire

Kitty Empire

28, Jul, 2012 @11:05 PM

Various: Harbour of Songs – review
Folk singers and writers combine on a charming album inspired by an artists' boat, writes Neil Spencer

Neil Spencer

21, Jul, 2012 @11:05 PM

Article image
Various Artists: Joy of Living: A Tribute to Ewan MacColl review – an engrossing portrait
This centenary collection of Ewan MacColl covers serves brilliantly to show off his songwriting skills

Neil Spencer

25, Oct, 2015 @8:00 AM