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4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 1 December 2008
To tell the truth there is very little I can add that hasn't already been said by those reviewers more knowledgeable and eloquent. Most here obviously feel the same way I do about this music Still there is something about "The Bairns" that creates a need to share my delight.

I discovered this album as part of my annual buying of the "Mercury Prize shortlist". Suffice to say all of the others have already faded away into the background and pall in comparison to this exquisite piece of work.

I remember the Guardian blabbing on about The Winterset when this was released but did the shameful "folk: I don't really do folk" thing and ignored it. My embarrassment at that earlier narrowness of vision is luckily smothered by my sheer joy of finally discovering what I was missing.

Let me start by saying that I have never heard anything like this before. This is something above and beyond the term "music". It's an experience that honestly transcends everything I have heard and loved in the past. As you immerse yourself in this album moments of devastating, desperate beauty emerge, entangling and drawing you further into the overriding hypnotic framework and gently rhythmic flow that flawlessly holds this exceptional work together.
This is a collection of tunes that will move you deeply, sometimes to tears, sometimes to laughter. I recently saw them live (which mere words cannot recommend strongly enough but it is, incredibly, even better live) and was somewhat relieved and amused to see other people nearby wiping away discreetly shed tears.
It was "Blackbird" and "Sea song" that initially hooked me but it was "Felton Lonnin", "Blue's Gaen Oot O'the Fashion" and especially "I Wish" that reeled me in. Now I'm hopelessly and wonderfully under the spell of this towering achievement.
Do they actually know how good this album is? Are they aware what they've created? Can they possibly produce something this perfect again? I certainly hope so because I just can't stop listening to this. Months later and all other music is still strangely irrelevant.

I know little about music but I think it's safe to say what's so very special about "The Bairns" is the overall structure and the arrangements. All the elements that make up each track work so perfectly together and something that initially seems relatively simplistic reveals layer upon layer of depth both audible and emotional.
Like an earlier reviewer I'm usually reaching for the hankies before "Fareweel Regality" has finished and I'm at a total loss to explain why.
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on 15 October 2014
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on 26 January 2011
I first heard the Unthank sisters on the BBC 'Folk on the BBC' programme broadcast this xmas (many times)on BBC4. Their music and voices blew me away and so I decided to buy their album the 'Bairns'. At first I thought it a little dreary and slow, but after listening to it a few times and really concentrating on the music I became a huge fan. You don't have to be a Geordie to enjoy their haunting Northumberland songs, this music is univesal and they should have more recognition for their talent.
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on 14 April 2009
I cannot praise this album highly enough. It encompasses every mood from ecstatic joy to deep sorrow, and leaves you feeling warm and funny inside. There's something about the Unthanks' voices, and the way they interweave, that is profoundly moving. Note the uplifting compassion, the sense of humour and the almost journalistic realism that informs this stunning song cycle. All human experience is here. The music is beautiful and the voices even more so. If you are feeling jaded by music, give The Bairns a listen.

You don't need to like (or know anything about) 'folk music' to enjoy this record. The Unthanks are even more captivating live. See them while you can.
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on 30 March 2009
It's dark. Let's get that out of the way first - the songs range in subject from domestic abuse through infant mortality to being stuck at home while your husband is out hunting whales. Even the cheerier-sounding tunes such as 'Blackbird' have a darker edge to them, and minor keys abound.

What this album does, though, is get things back to basics, and do it right. At the heart of the tunes are the two voices of Rachel and Becky Unthank, and they are allowed to take centre stage. They are very different voices, Rachel's being stronger, I think, but harder, while Becky's is reedier and more expressive, but to be honest, the truth of the matter is that the two voices work excellently together - the songs are filled with multiple-part harmonies that are a joy to listen to.

That's not to say, of course, that the instrumentation is in any way lacking - it's spare, in a way that only the most confident can manage; at no point are the instruments fighting the voices - the two parts of each song work perfectly together. When the voices are taking centre stage the music supports them, and when the instrumentalists are allowed free reign (as on 'My Donald'), the result is absolutely gorgeous.

in short, then, this is one of the most beautiful CDs that I've bought for a long time, and in the few months I've owned it, I've managed to fall thoroughly in love with the Unthank sisters.
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on 10 December 2010
Having first come across the Unthanks when they performed "Blue Bleezin'...." at the Mercury awards, I hankered after this CD for some time. The only thing preventing my buying it earlier was that I don't consider myself in any way a "folkie".

Finally, having made the decision to buy, this wonderful CD has not been off my player since, even being played on repeat. The combination of evocative vocals with varied and sometimes quirky arrangement brings individuality to each song and with an emotion to pull the heart strings this way and that and then both ways at once.

Uplifting, harrowing, charming, joyous, wistful.....and much more. I can't wait to extend my collection with their other works.
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on 23 August 2011
Not for the first time has Northumberland produced its own folk music-Owen Brannigan is the most obvious
But this isn't Steeleye Span or Kathryn Tickell or When the boat comes in its the next step where traditional folk songs from Tyneside meet the sounds of Sting and Elvis Costello head on.In other words the music of the Unthanks works equally as rock when you consider that Steeleye Span and the Fairport Convention used the same elements
The Sting comparison is pretty close if you listen to the CD If On A Winters Night.
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VINE VOICEon 18 October 2007
I'd eyed this CD up a few times until I finally got round to listening to some samples on the band's MySpace page, after which I went out and purchased the album. Firstly, this isn't a CD which rewards instantly if you do the quick flick throught the tracks that so many of us do when we get a pile of new discs, and its much better for it. Take the time to sit and listen to this properly and by half way through the first track you won't be able to switch it off until the last notes have played. This is folk at its absolute very best, performed in imaginative arrangements and covering the full gamut of life as only folk music can really do. It is nice too to see a Robert Wyatt song appearing on this CD as evidence that Unthank is interested not only in exploring traditional folk tales and tunes but also in extending the folk repertoire to include the best of new(ish) songwriting. Don't hesitate to buy this. It is wonderful.
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on 25 August 2010
I really like this album and especially the poignant Whitehorn track and I like the way that the music is given a unique style in the way that the Unthanks have written their own scores for many of the tracks. I really like the way the Unthank sisters sing in their regional accents as it gives individuality to the music. This is an album for people who enjoy regional songs that aren't in the barndance folk style but which are still folk songs.
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on 8 February 2009
I was given this album as a birthday present. I'm a fan of more modern folk music, so was slightly wary when I noticed the track names and first heard that unmistakable Northern accent. I, unfairly, predicted it would be a group in love with Celtic folk music who'd simply made a fairly nice sounding album with pretty voices and predictable influences. Boy, was I wrong.

I have never come across an album, or a band, quite like this. There is an incredible purity and beauty in Rachel and Becky's vocals; the kind of open, unadorned honesty that I am constantly yearning for in modern music. And that's what makes the album so masterful - the intelligent mixture of ancient and new.

The harmonies are painfully original and wonderfully layered, as is the music. Some of the most sympathetic, emotive piano I have heard in a long while, and some nice string playing, to boot. But it's the writing - and the arrangements - that present such a beautiful stage for all of these things. Old - I mean, really old - melodies woven familiarly and lovingly around hints of classical, folk and pop. Blue Bleezing Blind Drunk, track 3, punched home the first time I heard it in a way that truly shocked me. The lilting, hypnotic cover of Wyatt's Sea Song, track 9, is so well arranged that it might be my favourite thing on the album. Whitethorn, too, with it's haunting piano and bare, desperate lyrics is a contender. It's hard to choose though, with every song so different from the others.

You get the feeling from this album that these women are not just performing the music, they are completely immersed in every moment of it. That it manages to be as fresh, original and modern as well as hauntingly historic in the way that it is a small miracle that I still don't understand, despite many listens. I listen to a lot of music, but it has been a long time since I was so bowled over. My album of 2007, without a doubt.
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