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by Stephen Moore
Friday, November 9, 2012
A sober, heartfelt and unnervingly absorbing record assembled from a film soundtrack project. Lend it your ears!
The Unthanks were approached to write the music for a film of the same name by acclaimed filmmaker Richard Fenwick, charting the last century of industrial tumult in the north east’s Tyneside and Teesside.
As north-east natives they accepted, making this their third ‘side project’ album in 12 months. And what a record.
The first to capture The Unthanks’ five-piece core, SFTS draws on the slim folk songbook of the shipbuilding industry.
Embroidering evocative human narratives with pared-down arrangements lets the sisters’ plaintive vocals shine through, for a gripping set.
The Romantic Tees is the three-part heart of the album, a 10-minute self-penned trio sprinkled with fuzzy archive recordings from the shipyards and towns that depended on them.
The sisters’ father George Unthank’s voice is sampled and looped as he reads poetry over undulating piano and violin, questioning the absurdity of romanticising industrial rivers, a theme that runs through the album.
A reworking of Elvis Costello’s Shipbuilding gives it an eerie, solemn makeover, while Monkey Dung Man paints a horrific picture of industrial disease, asbestosis and the dangers workers exposed themselves to, sometimes unwittingly - ‘What a way to earn your pay, and keep your family fed’ the sisters plaintively sing.
The sign-off, Only Remembered, is a fitting, singularly dignified tribute in the sparingly orchestrated folk song tradition.
An unlikely proposition perhaps, but deserving of your ear.