Review: The Unthanks – Diversions Vol. 5 – Live and Unaccompanied

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.

Source: Album | The Unthanks – Diversions Vol. 5 – Live and Unaccompanied


Serenity Now: Music And A Conversation With Joan Shelley

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

6 of PJ Harvey’s biggest influences…according to PJ Harvey

PJ Harvey reveals six key influences

1. Bob Dylan

“Bob Dylan is a sacred name in our household.”

The stone quarry man’s daughter could well be a PJ Harvey song title, but it in fact describes Polly’s background. Born in Bridport, Dorset, her parents Ray and Eva did indeed run a quarrying business, though the gems they extracted for the young PJ came from their record collection, playing her a diet of progressive ’60s rock’n’roll.

Chief among them was Bob Dylan who was on frequent rotation and his impact is clear. Harvey not only covered Dylan songs in her first band, folk duo The Polekats, but a brief, punky reimagining of Highway ’61 Revisited features on her second album, Rid Of Me.

Lyrics-wise Dylan has been a clear influence. Harvey shares his creative wanderlust, changing from album to album, but she also eschews the autobiographical in favour of strange snap shots, real world events, tall tales, heartbreakers, love songs and more.

2. Politics

“Since a young age I’ve been interested in what’s going on in the world… but I didn’t want to do it badly, so I wanted to wait until I felt that I had more experience as writer and would be able to carry it off…”

Serious historical research and documentary field work are not often part of an album’s demo process, but both have been crucial to Harvey’s most recent works. 2011’s Let England Shake examined the impact of conflict on soldiers and civilians alike through both historical and contemporary lenses, leading Harvey to sift through a range of sources from historic letters to active blogs.

2016’s The Hope Six Demolition Project fused songwriting and journalism as Harvey visited many of the places she sung about to collect material directly. This not only produced the album, but it provides the basis for a documentary that filmmaker Seamus Murphy simultaneously created with Harvey. [ . . . ]

Continue at : BBC – 6 of PJ Harvey’s biggest influences…according to PJ Harvey

Theatre review: Rowan Rheingans: “Dispatches on the Red Dress”

Undramatic yet utterly spellbinding singing and narration. Picture: Contributed.

Rowan Rheingans treads a circular path round a stage, evoking the route she takes when walking round the village in Germany where her grandparents still live.

Rowan Rheingans: Dispatches on the Red Dress, Scottish Storytelling Centre (Venue 30) * * * * *

Rheingans is a notable name amid the recent generation of English folk-revivalists, and this deeply personal piece of one-woman musical theatre, co-written with Liam Hurley, sees her deftly reach for fiddle, viola, banjo or a gently reverberating electric guitar to unspool the story of the titular dress Rheingans’s great-grandmother made her grandmother to go to a dance, and of the village’s collective experience during and after the Second World War.

She evokes the youthful excitement of the dance, pirouetting gently about the stage, but gradually the wartime and post-war experience of the village, with its “field of misery”, emerges, unfolding along with that dress.

Rheingans is a persuasively clear teller of songs (her songwriting won a BBC Radio 2 Folk Award in 2016), accompanying herself with unobtrusive ease and judiciously deploying electronic looping that leaves notes hanging and fading behind her words, or introduces a glorious chorus of birdsong, as the bitterly inglorious history of the field becomes clear, recalling how her grandfather, on his way to school, would cycle hurriedly past the stacked dead.

All these things emerge unhurriedly through Rheingans’s undramatic yet utterly spellbinding singing and narration. History is brought up to date as her grandparents recall how, in the face of Nazism, they sang the old, forbidden songs in their home and covertly took provisions to their neighbours who were barred from visiting the local shops; yet on the other hand, they in turn express their anxieties at the “new faces” appearing in Germany, the old distrust of The Other.

But there remain glimmers of hope amid the darkness: the village and its legions of ghosts may be laden with unspeakable sorrow, but there is still dancing. And as the red dress’s true origin unfolds, the revelation will leave you quietly breathless.

Source: Theatre review: Rowan Rheingans: Dispatches on the Red Dress, Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh