Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Unthanks - Colleen and Paul -- Iota - July 3 2010

Colleen and Paul - This is a duo with acoustic guitars and microphones that additionally have one guy playing electric bass. Apparently they also work and record with a full band, but with touring prices these days, they are hardly the first to strip it down a bit on the road. I was expecting folk or folk-rock and got only a little of that sound. They went more into a pop or pop-rock format with the rhythms and feel of the songs. The guitars sounded well together with Paul playing some nice acoustic leads that gave an almost mandolin-like quality to the sound. And their harmonies were fine as expected. They have the bonus of being from Toronto, but I do not think they quite rise to the ridiculously high bar I have set for Toronto acts. But there is a lot of room below that high bar for quality acts and they are all of that. Their stage patter was somewhere between Sonny & Cher and Mitch & Mickey (A Mighty Wind).

The Unthanks - The Unthanks are a highly regarded folk duo from Northumberland which is way, way up in northern England (north of Newcastle). They have been nominated and won awards from different sources in the UK for their excellent modern take on traditional Briish folk music. Their set showcases both their talents and their approach by offering great original songs, traditional songs, along with covers of Robert Wyatt and the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. The sisters have exquisite harmony reminding me of when Maddy Prior and Gay Woods were in Steeleye Span together. They also add some clog dancing during a few songs both out on the club floor as well as the mic'ed stage. They were accompanied by keyboards most prominently with the steady string arrangements featuring cello and violin. Two other guys rotated between drums, bass and guitar. There is a lot of space in some of the arrangements reminding me of John Cale styled productions--had he produced something by Shirley Collins in some alternate universe. One highlight for everyone was when the sisters went out on to the floor and sang "John Dead" (from their first album) a cappella. The real magic to this was that I have never heard a crowd so quiet with people even trying to keep from creaking their chairs. The crowd loved the set and the only downer was that there were not much more than 50 people here. Hopefully the US market will grow to levels similar to the UK and they have toured here more than once, so we shall see. Count me in as a serious fan.

Quote of the Night: "Me and Becky are sisters if you haven't figured that out and Unthanks is our real name, unfortunately. We blame our dad."

No comments: