Here’s The Tender Coming, the 2010 release from Britian’s sisters-fronted folk act The Unthanks, is punctuated by the crafty balance between traditional tunes and a tastefully antiquated approach to story-driven songwriting. Highlighting the prodigious singing of sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank, the songs receive considerable contributions from a nine-piece backing band that, more than anything else, are aware of their role in the band of providing a steadily ebbing and flowing backdrop for which the pastoral lyrics are intended to gracefully float about. There is a distinctly vintage feel to the record, as though it were almost certainly recorded before an early afternoon fire in a log cabin while snow is falling just beyond the window on the knolls of northern England, and the band quietly discusses plans for a robust dinner of smoked ham and potatoes paired with a red wine. Similarly, the album is embracing and comforting.
The layered tracks are arranged in a meticulous manner, however light they come across. On “Annachie Gordon” the background keyboards and guitars gently crescendo in accordance with a vocal performance that rarely, throughout the track’s eight minutes, stops to take a break. There is a forbearing quality that speaks to the urgency of the performance, as though the lyrics are really meant to serve as a harbinger for listeners; advice under the skillful guise of musicality. The following track, “Lucky Gilchrist” sounds more like Yes than anything quaint or subdued, as the band had hitherto not even hinted was within their repertoire. It’s difficult to determine whether or not the progressive rock feel is accidental or the band’s influences are truly that expansive. A glance over the lyrics to the next track, a cover of Frank Higgins’ “The Testimony of Patience Kershaw” is more than enough to provoke tears to slow run down your face, but when sung by the Unthank sisters hardly a breath is able to escape as the narrator reveals the travails of a juvenile woman working in the mining industry in 1842. Here is the tender coming, indeed.
If nothing else, though The Unthanks have not reinvented the wheel, here they offer a very important lesson; just because you have computers at your constant beck and call does not mean they’re essential to the creative process. Harmonies and arrangement prevail! Add to that lyrics that reveal deeper insight, and from such wondrous talents, to boot. As fun as it is to revel in fun and simple music, the occasional dose of earth shattering reality can go a long way in endearing yourself to your fans, as is unwaveringly asserted over these 13 tracks.