Review: The Unthanks - Last
Album Cover - Last
 Artist: The Unthanks
 Album: Last
 Date of Release: 2011/03
 Label: EMI / RabbleRouser Music (US: Rough Trade)
 Cat. No.: 095 5942
 Country of Release: UK
 Genre/s: World | Folk

 Sub-Genre/s: Contemporary, Experimental, English, Anglo
 Type: Studio
   Time: 49:45
   Date of Review: 2012/01/30
   Web Site:

Purchasing Info


Their second album under the The Unthanks moniker, the eagerly anticipated Last was released on RebelRouser/EMI in March 2011. Overall, it is their fourth album, counting those released as Rachel And The Winterset.

And yes, it is another album of mainly sad, doleful songs, thank goodness! The Unthanks are frequently referred to as (self-confessed) 'miserable buggers.' Well, long may they continue to be such glorious miserable buggers then. Sad songs often not only prove to be the best ones, with the greatest depth, but also the most hauntingly beautiful. And thus it is again with Last.

The selection of songs is as eclectic as ever, ranging from the most traditional Northumbrian folk songs to a contemporary anti-war song and on the way assimilating Tom Waits and even King Crimson as if these had always been an integral part of the folk tradition and with incredible finesse. Of course, there is also an unimaginably beautiful, deep original by Adrian McNally, which provides the title track.

Going against the grain here, I feel compelled to quote from McNally's annotation to this wonderful song here. 'The song isn't about how great the past is, rather, it's about asking why the future doesn't look so great. We naturally assume, like all animals, that we are evolving for the better, becoming more enlightened, happier and functional with each generation. Yet mankind seems to perpetuate the same mistakes over and over again, without recognizing it. And as our living becomes more and more flexible by advancement, so we are rejecting so many ways we've previously learned to be. So much of our culture is fixated on the new that lessons, skills and wisdom are a thing of the past. Little joke there. We are of course the product of our past, but not in the positive way we might be. I hope though, that it doesn't come across as a negative song. Cynicism is often the accusation when impassioned optimism is the intention! The title itself is intended as a positive message.'

Much wisdom from that young head! So beautifully put I just had to append it here.

The interpretations of the songs are, as ever with The Unthanks, glorious and sheer perfection, with the outstanding, extraordinary voices of Rachel and Becky Unthank subtly underscored by the equally superb playing of the rest of the band, and superlative, often sparse, almost minimalist, arrangements that often contrast foreboding, cool strings against the compassion, even warmth, of the voices. Placing the guitar melody of Starless in the trumpet is a stroke of sheer genius.

Equally remarkable is the superb, tight production on Last. This kind of quality of production is not heard too often, so kudos to Adrian McNally here, too.

When you combine the stunning interpretations and performances with the wonderful arrangements and outstanding production, you end up with an album that is hauntingly beautiful as well as technical perfection in Last. An album of this quality does not come along too often.

It is therefore a foregone conclusion that Last is not only brilliantly consistent but also consistently brilliant. This album is far beyond compelling, it is sheer magic that completely mesmerises you with its incredible beauty. And yes, this is still folk, very much so! The Unthanks never loose sight of the tradition, nor love, affection and respect for it. This, perhaps more than anything, is what for me makes them the indubitably greatest modern folk band of our time. Simply glorious!

No folk collection could ever be complete without The Unthank's Last, it's an absolute must have. For any aficionado of good music. It's glorious, they're glorious, totally. Get it if you haven't already, for goodness' sake.

© 2012 Rainlore's World of Music/Rainlore. All rights reserved.

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Track List:

 1. Gan To The Kye (trad.) - 5:39
 2. The Gallowgate Lad (Words: Joe Wilson, Tune: trad. [Sally Grey]) - 6:06
 3. Queen of Hearts (trad.) - 4:32
 4. Last (Adrian McNally) - 7:09
 5. Give Away Your Heart (Jon Redfern) - 3:49
 6. No One Knows I'm Gone (Tom Waits / Kathleen Brennan) - 2:11
 7. My Laddie Sits Ower Late Up (trad.) - 2:45
 8. Canny Hobbie Elliott (trad.) - 3:28
 9. Starless (Cross / Fripp / Wetton / Palmer-James) - 6:00
10. Close The Coalhouse Door (Alex Glasgow) - 7:02
11. Last (Reprise) (Adrian McNally) - 0:57

All arrangements by The Unthanks (R. Unthank, B. Unthank, McNally, Keegan, Price)
Strings written/arranged by Adrian McNally, except Last, strings arr. by Adrian McNally and Niopha Keegan

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Rachel Unthank - vocals, kalimba (3)
Becky Unthank - vocals
Niopha Keegan - violin, vocals (1, 5, 8)
Adrian McNally - piano, dulcitone, vocals (1, 4, 5), drums (3, 4, 7)
Chris Price - bass, acoustic & electric guitar, ukelele

String Section:
Niopha Keegan - violin; Ros Stephen - violin; Becca Spencer - viola; Jo Silverston - cello

Lizzie Jones - trumpet; Dean Ravera - double bass; Alex Neilson - srums (1, 2, 5); Julian Sutton - melodeon


Purchasing Info:

Last can be purchased from:
Amazon UK (Also MP3) (Also MP3)


Other online sources and major CD stores

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