The Unthanks – Diversions Vol 4 – The Songs and Poems of Molly Drake

Album Review | RabbleRouser | Review by Liam Wilkinson | Stars: 5/5

“What’s so hot about reality?” Rachel sings with such aching weight on “Dream Your Dreams”, the second song on this remarkable new record from The Unthanks. That single lyric, scribbled down by a wistful mother at her parlour piano sometime in the 1950s, not only leaps from the velvet-shadowed grooves of an album so possessed by whimsy and reverie but manages to land with a thud on our modern consciousness. As the world we live in creases beneath the burden of hideous reality, trust The Unthanks – one of the most ambitious and perpetually fascinating bands currently making music – to furnish this mad, mad world with a very necessary path into preternatural enchantment. For their fourth volume of Diversions, The Unthanks present both a celebration and ambitious re-imagining of the music of Molly Drake, the mother of the much celebrated but no less mystifying singer songwriter Nick Drake. Twenty four years after her death and only ten years since the first official release of the home recordings she made over half a century ago, The Unthanks have fed Molly’s seductive songs through their now renowned mastery for beautifully autumnal performance to create, perhaps, their most arresting album to date. They have done so with the help of Molly’s daughter, the actress Gabrielle Drake, who weaves a shimmering thread through the record with touching readings of her mother’s image-rich poetry. Whilst the inky currents of Adrian McNally’s arrangements of piano, voice, bass, fiddle and clarinet, as well as atmospheric field recordings, flow seductively below, Gabrielle’s subtly reverberated voice rises with all the stately flavour of Richard Burton’s contributions to Under Milk Wood and War of the Worlds. For those who are familiar with Molly’s indelible recordings, with their charmingly inventive piano chords and a voice so hauntingly similar to her famous son’s, songs such as “How Wild The Wind Blows” and “I Remember” will, no doubt, stand out as two of the many pleasing inclusions, along with the aforementioned “Dream Your Dreams” which blends Rachel’s pure and youthful vocals with Becky’s fiddle-bow voice to create some spine-fizzing harmonies. And whilst Molly’s style lends itself quite willingly to that of The Unthanks, it’s intriguing to hear such unanticipated interpretations; “Little Weaver Bird”, for example, is stolen from the safe little nest that Molly constructed for it and transformed into a powerfully pensive masterpiece complete with chanting harmonies, tolling piano chords and skittering percussion. The intrigue continues as the collaboration between Gabrielle and The Unthanks yields the astonishing fruit of songs Molly composed but did not record. “Soft Shelled Crabs”, for example, comes bounding out of Gabrielle’s childhood memories and into the hands of this ever determined band with joyful curiosity. Diversions Vol. 4 – The Songs and Poem’s of Molly Drake provides another glimpse into the artistry of a band so intent on making music of superlative quality and bare emotion. By lending their singular compassion to the music and words of Molly Drake, The Unthanks have been absorbed into the beguiling continuum of the Drake family history. And if it isn’t enough to animate the ghost of that fascinating clan’s inventive matriarch, we’re also offered an appendage of eight extra recordings which can be acquired via The Unthanks website. And, let’s face it, who wouldn’t be left wanting more?