From the early days of Rachel Unthank and the Winterset to their configuration as The Unthanks, one of the constants has been the fiddle and vocals of Niopha Keegan. On Diversions Vol. 5 – Live and Unaccompanied, she joins Becky and Rachel as the third voice in a trio focused on the spectral qualities of three unaccompanied voices singing live to an audience.
The Unthanks have never been ones to shy away from a challenge, having covered everyone from Robert Wyatt to King Crimson, yet there is a glory in being able to hear their voices completely unadorned. Building from one to three voices in a matter of notes, ‘One By One’, establishes a high bar. The song, a tale of longing and loneliness, haunts, “We go walking out at night, as we wander through the grass, we can hear each other pass, but we’re far apart, far apart in the dark.”
The traditional, ‘I’m Weary Of Lying Alone’, with the voice of Niopha Keegan singing the lead, establishes the pain of being alone. “If I got a comely young man who would take me without fortune and make me a wife of his very own. For the truth is, I’ll say is, I’ll die in despair If I lie any longer alone, alone.” However, the mood isn’t always one of despair, ‘Geordie Wedding Set’ is rollicking collection, incorporating the traditional ‘We’ll Aal Be Wed In Our Auld Claiths’ and ‘Hi Canny Man’.
Clocking in at just over a minute, ‘Where’ve Yer Bin Dick’ from Here’s The Tender Coming is a song of disappointment three times over. From selling papers for half their worth to courting a girl but only getting disappointing kisses to the final disaster, “Where’ve yer bin Dick? Down at library, I’ve been waiting for a book. Got no pictures, couldn’t read it. Were it worth it? No, it weren’t.”
Voices pure and harmonies a plenty, this is never clearer than on ‘We Picked Apples In A Graveyard Freshly Mowed’. There are but three singers, yet the clarity of the lines suggests more. Finally there is ‘Farewell Shanty’, where the voices of Becky, Rachel and Niopha are joined by the entire audience to create an exquisite closing track.
The wonder of the Unthanks is why these albums are called diversions. After all, Diversions No. 5 – Live And Unaccompanied is a main course worth savouring in its own right.
The Hobbledehoy is vey much looking forward to hearing Joan Shelley perform in Boston on Friday night. Though she hails from Kentucky, Joan’s music borrows quite a lot from British traditional folk sounds, and English vocalists like June Tabor, who she frequently cites as a major influence. Give a listen to NPR’s All Songs Considered interview below.
In this All Songs Considered guest DJ session, Joan Shelley talks about her latest album, Like the River Loves the Sea and shares songs by some of the other artists who’ve inspired her over the years.
Joan Shelley makes music that lulls my soul. Her new album, Like the River Loves the Sea, is a serene experience. It’s music with a deep connection to British folk music from the ’60s and ’70s but with influences from this side of the world and her home of Louisville, Kentucky.
On this edition of All Songs Considered, Joan Shelley is joined by her musical partner and Louisville companion, guitarist Nathan Salsburg to play DJ. You can hear the roots of the music they make in the songs they chose to share, from American banjo legend Roscoe Holcomb to English folk singer June Tabor and the contemporary music of Bonnie “Prince” Billy.
Joan Shelley tells the story of recording Like the River Loves the Sea in Iceland and how they had to forgo adding banjo to the album because they couldn’t locate one in Iceland. We also hear Joan Shelley’s early trio called Maiden Radio, Joan and Nathan’s new collaboration with Bonnie “Prince” Billy and how she met him at an ugly sweater party in Kentucky [ . . . ]
LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW with JOAN SHELLEY at: Serenity Now: Music And A Conversation With Joan Shelley