Rachel Unthank And The Winterset – Cruel Sister
Rabble Rouser Music 2005
[tags: acoustic, folk, traditional, female vocalist]
Listen while reading:
January Man (from Cruel Sister)
The Fair Flower Of Northumberland (from Cruel Sister)
Today a fellow student, friend and neighbor of mine, Lance, got me in touch with the first Rachel Unthank And The Winterset album Cruel Sister of which I just knew that it existed. For some funny reason I never gave a listen to it and now I see I missed something big. In case you also missed the debut album of the band surrounding Rachel and Betty Unthank from Northumberland/England I hope this post will provide some interesting news even though the album was released back in 2005.
The strength of Cruel Sister is its immense intensity often only caused by vocals and piano or plain a cappella tracks. It’s hard to formulate words to describe the transformation of these old English traditionals into such great sounding contemporary folk music (no harm to the originals!). Easiely one of the highlights is the near 9 minutes long title track which wins you over because of its composition which features three different voices and sheer endless variation in the atmosphere it creates. It’s like living a dream.
Maybe you think of Meg Baird’s album Dear Companion reading this retrospection. The comparison of these two records reveals some similarities but I think Cruel Sister is more traditional than Dear Companion and also features more instruments (but at the same time it’s much more reduced because of a cappella songs like The Fair Flower Of Northumberland, The Greatham Calling On Song, John Dead or Troubled Waters).
It’s a perfect record to listen to during fall and I think if you listen to David Åhlén’s We Sprout In Thy Soil, Rachel Unthank And The Winterset’s Cruel Sister and then to Les Étoiles’ To Leave A Mark you can spend a really, really lovely afternoon maybe sitting in front of a neat open fire. I’m sure this session would get you down in an uber relaxed way.
At the end I want to spend some words on the time between 2005 and 2009. In 2007 the band released their second record called The Bairns and not long ago back in September 2009 the third full length saw the light of day (this time under the moniker The Unthanks): Here’s The Tender Coming. It’s sad that they decided to give away the exclusive licence to EMI. Sure, you can make more money but such great music shouldn’t be released on a major label. Call me naive but I’m not willing to write a review about either The Bairns nor Here’s The Tender Coming even though both albums are really good (although not as good as Cruel Sister but this isn’t really a surprise, is it?).
So if it is possible for you to get your hands on Cruel Sister I highly advice you to do so because this is an album you will love for the rest of your life (and don’t be afraid of the unassuming cover artwork).