Rachel Unthank & the Winterset

Hailing from the Newcastle area in northeastern England, this female quartet plays haunting, emotionally intense material primarily culled from Tyneside folk tradition, but also straying into contemporary covers and arrangements. Sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank each sing with an ethereal beauty that seems shrouded in mysteries swirling around in ghostly mists, and the group's harmonies—complex constructions that seem equal parts medieval madrigals and '60s girl group as interpreted by Shakespearean witches—can send shivers along your spine. Exquisitely spacious arrangements enhance the atmospherics while Rachel's cello, Niopha Keegan's fiddle, Stef Conner's piano, and the percussion (via Rachel's and Becky's clogging) drift by or suddenly loom large, like ships emerging from a fog bank. Occasionally jazzy flourishes rear out of the harrowing gracefulness that often prevails. There are also gusts of very modern dissonance, such as toward the end of "Blue Bleezing Blind Drunk," an ancient Scottish song about domestic abuse and excessive imbibing from the group's enchanting 2007 album The Bairns (Rabble Rouser). Elsewhere they tackle songs about the old whaling days, vanishing boyfriends, betrayal, and incessant rain, each strikingly original and riveting. Opening will be local folk-pop singer-songwriter Aby Wolf, whose debut album, Sweet Prudence, has inspired rave reviews since its January release.
Mon., May 25, 7 p.m., 2009

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