In my travels, I’ve recently discovered the music of Rachel Unthank & the Winterset. This is a relatively new band which can be described as a traditional folk band from the English region of Northumberland, which is in the North East of England near the Scottish border. The overall effect of the music to my ears is a more palatable Joanna Newsom, yet with something else in there too. It might have something to do with that old belief that when people who are related sing together, some special alchemy occurs; Rachel’s sister Becky sings lead on a few numbers off of their recent album, Bairns. I’m hoping that the record gets a wider release here in North America.
The first track on the album, ‘Felton Lonnin’ is actually in a Northumberland dialect, which I’m guessing is derived from Norwegian origins, since that cultural strain is pretty strong in that area of Britain. Otherwise, the Geordie accents native to the North East come through in the other songs, that accent being unmistakable even among the variety of distinct accents in Britain. The music itself is haunting, rooted in a long-standing tradition of British folk music out of that region, yet highly original too. To me, it evokes long winter nights, not in a bleak way, but rather in a mythical, spiritual sort of way. The melodies are infused with flashes of Nick Drake, with a bit of Vashti Bunyan thrown in. But you can tell too that their roots go pretty deep, and that there is something else there in their music which can’t quite be identified.
You can hear the music on the band’s MySpace page and make up your own mind. Enjoy! And of course tell me what you think!