The Unthanks Perform “Mount The Air”

Mount The Air The UnthanksListen to this track by Northumbrian chamber-folk collective The Unthanks, once known as Rachel Unthank & The Winterset until 2009. It’s “Mount The Air”, the sumptuous and sprawling title track to 2015’s Mount The Air. This is the full-length ten minute plus version of the song, that can also be heard in a more radio friendly length.

The song’s lyrics reference a traditional poem published in a book of Cornish folk songs in 1958 called “I’ll Mount The Air On Swallow’s Wings”, an ode to lost love, and certainly in keeping with the British folk traditions that the Unthanks have pursued over the course of eight albums. Musically, the influences on this song are attached to a similar vintage of the late fifties, although on a different artistic spectrum. The connections with Miles Davis and Gil Evans and their work on Sketches Of Spain in particular are almost universally acknowledged at this point, even by the band who wrote this song. Maybe the mournful trumpet gives it away. Or, maybe it’s the ghostly Gil-Evans-like atmosphere of the almost-discordant strings.

The sonic landscape of this tune seems to match the thematic content, even if that might not be expected. Even if this song can be looked upon as a standard lost-love folk tune, it touches on other themes as well that go beyond any one tradition. This song is about transformation. Read more

Rachel Unthank & the Winterset

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.

Rachel Unthank & the WintersetThe 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!