Unthank – Smith
|March 26, 2023|
Today, two former Mercury Music Prize nominees Rachel Unthank (The Unthanks) and Paul Smith (Maxïmo Park) announce Nowhere And Everywhere, their debut album as Unthank : Smith. Two new songs, ‘The Natural Urge’ and ‘Seven Tears’ are available to hear now.
With Nowhere And Everywhere Unthank and Smith, both from England’s North East, and foremost talents in their respective fields, set out to collect songs and pen originals that claw at the beating heart of the region. Though Rachel Unthank has been immersed in the folk world from childhood, Paul Smith’s route towards folk began in his teens with a love of Martin Carthy, Karen Dalton, Nick Drake and Bert Jansch, especially their fingerstyle guitar-playing. Echoes of that approach can be heard throughout this album, albeit simplified and merged with a more direct sound akin to US avant-rock acolytes of the ‘60s folk revival like Gastr Del Sol and David Pajo.
The pair’s collaboration for the new project came about somewhat naturally as Rachel explains: “Paul and I have discovered that we have so much in common. At the core of that is the genuine joy that singing brings us both. We also both have a deep-rooted connection to our native North East, as can be heard in our unfiltered accents, yet this rootedness gives us the appetite for outrospection. I can’t wait to get on the road and start singing together.”
Paul adds: “Rachel’s voice is a rare instrument, so to hear our voices blending together for the first time was a big moment for me. It hinted at new possibilities for me as a singer and musician.”
Co-produced by David Brewis of Field Music, Nowhere And Everywhere features Faye MacCalman of emerging avant-jazz group Archipelago on clarinet, and exploratory drums by Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy / Alasdair Roberts collaborator Alex Neilson, of Trembling Bells.
While the album includes its share of traditional songs, the first two tracks to emerge are both originals penned by Paul Smith (‘The Natural Urge’) and Rachel Unthank (‘Seven Tears’). ‘The Natural Urge was partly inspired by the bleak, gnarled landscapes depicted by Paul Nash in his role as an official WW1 artist. He comments: “The Natural Urge is, ultimately, an anti-war song, but I tried to write something more atmospheric and less obvious than that might imply. The guitar riff reminded me of a folk melody, and the theme also seemed to fit with the tradition of protest.”
Rachel adds: “I enjoy the brooding atmosphere that builds through The Natural Urge with layered harmonium and guitar, and how the clarinet blends with our voices, making it sound like a haunting third voice.”
Rachel Unthanks’ ‘Seven Tears’ injects some local mythology into proceedings, as she explains: “I have always loved the songs and ballads about selkies – a seal in the sea that takes off their sealskin and adopts human form on land. When doing some research about the selkie mythology, I read that if you cried seven tears into the sea, then your selkie lover would come back to you. I also love the Northumbrian word ‘darkening’ which means dusk; that time of night when magic happens, and the time that I once saw a bob of seals off a Northumbrian beach, which inspired me to write this song.”