Here’s The Tender Coming
Uk Release: 2009 EMI / RabbleRouser Music
Europe/North America: 2009 Rough Trade
Australia: 2010 Shock Records
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“Even more satisfying, compelling and varied than the Mercury-nominated The Bairns. Haunting, original and magnificent” 4 stars, The Guardian
“an exquisite mixture of light and dark, instinct and artistry” 4 stars, Uncut
“Folk music’s most beguiling act is back” 4.5 stars The Sun
“There is nothing obvious about this album” 4 Stars Observer Music Magazine
“..a rare, undisciplined magic..this is another formidable work” fRoots
“Absolutely exquisite. A real work of art. I will be playing it at least forever” Paul Morley
“When confronted with music as splendid as this, it’s easy to be swept along on a wave of purple prose. “Beautiful”, “haunting”, and “beguiling” are all words that spring easily to mind whilst listening to this astonishing record..even such effusive descriptions drastically undersell” BBC Music Reviews
“My favorite county record of 2009. The county of Northumberland, that is. The supernatural singing from Rachel and Becky Unthank and the lovely arrangements are three reasons to hear this wonderful album.” – Elvis Costello
Following on from their Mercury Prize nomination, Geordie folk inventors Rachel Unthank & The Winterset are back with a name tweak (The Unthanks), revised line-up and a brand new album Here’s The Tender Coming (EMI) that rests not one jot on the incomparable sound that has earned them admirers from the ranks of Radiohead, Portishead, Robert Wyatt, Ben Folds, Nic Jones, Ewan McGregor and Nick Hornby.
“The Bairns was so bleak and sparse that we didn’t feel we could build on its intensity,” explains Rachel, “and besides, we like to keep stimulated and moving creatively. We were never going to do the opposite and make a happy album!.. but Here’s The Tender Coming is hopefully a warmer, calmer shade of sad than The Bairns.”
Here’s The Tender Coming is named after the title track of the album, in which the Tender is the boat coming to press the men of the North-East into war, but as an album title, it works as a metaphor for the melancholic, reflective shift in mood from The Unthanks.
While the abbreviated name reflects the long-established reality that the band is co-fronted by Rachel Unthank’s sister Becky Unthank, the real development sees an extended arrangement approach that includes drums and bass, all kinds of tuned percussion, strings and brass and The Unthank’s producer Adrian McNally taking on piano responsibilities from Stef Conner who returns to finish the final year of her PHD, having kept her studies going while playing over 100 shows in the shoes of departed Winterset member Belinda O’Hooley.
Rachel: “Adrian is a previously invisible but very real member of the band who, already a creative force in the engine room, after some persuasion from myself, Becky and Niopha, is finally taking the stage.”
“I’ve always wanted to avoid getting involved in a playing capacity,” says Adrian. “As soon as you become physically involved in music, any vision you might have as an arranger and producer gets clouded by insecurity. As a limited musician, I always felt I was better off getting the best out of others, but on this album, circumstances prevailed and I found myself playing allsorts!”
McNally’s childhood friend Chris Price becomes a new member, playing guitar, bass, ukelele and dulcitone on the album, while Winterset key member Niopha Keegan continues on violin and accordion, plus a bit of mandolin this time. “Niopha’s playing has been so important while we’ve been making so many changes,” says Rachel. “As soon as she adds on what she does, it instantly sounds like us! Her playing is so grounded in tradition. For all that we try to be different, it’s the hard edge of her trad style that for me brings a cutting edge and takes us right back to where we belong.”
“We probably think the album sounds more different to our previous work than it does,” says Adrian McNally, the band’s producer and reluctant new pianist. “Apart from the Beatles cover we did for Mojo Magazine (Sexy Sadie), it’s the first time we’ve used drums and bass, and it has lots of bigger arrangements, but after six months of working on it, I’m hearing it for the first time now as a listener, and finding that after all the hard work, it still sounds like us! The predominant thing I’m hearing is Rachel and Becky’s vocals, and I’m thrilled about that, because it means that however new the arrangement sound may or may not be, it isn’t getting in the way of their personality and storytelling. And that was my goal from the start; as much as I’ve had my head immersed in the music for six months, I wanted to produce an album that was more about the singing.”
Here’s The Tender Coming is the usual Unthank mix of traditional song, self-penned (this time McNally’s Lucky Gilchrist, written as a cele-bration of a close friend of Rachel’s who died young last year) and song written in the folk idiom, imaginatively borrowed from writers little known outside the folk world and mostly from the North East of England. Yet in Annachie Gordon there are overtones of Steve Reich counterpoint, Beach Boys / Fleet Foxes playful harmony in opener Because He Was A Bonnie Lad, shades of Antony & The Johnsons in the opening to Flowers of the Town, the quietly shambolic eccentricity of Robert Wyatt in Living By The Water, and in Lucky Gilchrist the playful joy of Sufjan Stevens.
Recorded and mixed in Newcastle Upon Tyne, again The Unthanks have drawn on a cast of North East extras to colour their sound, using the same string players from the Northern Sinfonia as on The Bairns, Neil Harland and Julian Sutton again on double bass and melodeon, a Tyneside brass elite of Graham Hardy, Simon Tarrant and Chris Hibbard, and London cellist Jo Silverston, who colloborated on her parts in Flowers of the Town and Here’s The Tender Coming.
Here’s The Tender Coming is the sound of a creative team with no interest in resting on laurels, preferring the adventures of a new chapter to the comfort of a winning reputation.