The Unthanks – Diversions Vol 5 – Live and Unaccompanied

Album Review | RabbleRouser | Review by Allan Wilkinson

Since 2005, Rachel and Becky Unthank have appeared in a variety of combinations, from their humble beginnings as a fine vocal duo, then doubling in size to a fine quartet, then a quintet, then a quintet with a brass section or a string section (and occasionally both), then backed by a celebrated brass band to an entire philharmonic orchestra among other variants. For this project however, the fifth in their Diversions series, the siblings return to basics with a slimmed down version of The Unthanks, featuring Niopha Keegan, their long serving sister from another mother (hmm, as a rhythm that doesn’t quite work so well does it?)

Deliciously in tune with one another, the trio traverse a variety of songs, many new to us, with the inclusion of just three that have previously been recorded by the band. For those familiar with The Unthanks purely from their inclusion in the Detectorists TV series, the eerie “Magpie” is included here in all it’s dark beauty, certainly not quite the same version as the one used as the theme song to the Seventies children’s TV show of the same name that’s for sure. If “Magpie” reveals the darkness in some of the trio’s repertoire, then their lighter side is captured in such songs as Lee Nicholson’s “Where’ve Yer Bin Dick”, the traditional “Geordie Wedding Set”, comprising such delights as “We’ll Aal Be Wed In Our Auld Claiths” and “Hi Canny Man” and the mellitological mash-up of Connie Converse’s “Bees” and Peter Bellamy’s nod to Kipling’s “The Bee Boy Song”. Perhaps though, the trio’s breathtaking treatment of Richard Dawson’s “We Picked Apples in a Graveyard Freshly Mowed” should be considered the set’s showstopping performance, one of those three part harmony songs where you swear you can hear more than three voices; perhaps they’re just ghosts? Although these songs were all recorded live, from London to Newcastle and Dublin to Belfast, we should perhaps not consider it a live album as such, but rather, an exclusive studio album that just happens to have been recorded before audiences, the most natural environment for these songs to be performed and heard.

Choice Track: We Picked Apples in a Graveyard Freshly Mowed (NSV 497)