The music of The Unthanks defies description and labels. Technically they could be considered a folk band, but when’s the last time a folk band covered King Crimson? Their albums fall into two categories: releases featuring their own music along with cover songs, and their Diversions series where they cover the music of others. Diversions #4: The Songs and Poems of Molly Drake falls into the second category.
While the music of Nick Drake took a generation (and a Volkswagen advert) to be appreciated, mother Molly’s work has taken even longer. These songs and poems were never meant to see the light of day, yet under the steady guidance of The Unthanks this CD, (along with 8 additional tracks included on the Extras disc) offers a look behind the curtain, not to help understand Nick Drake’s music, but to reveal another aspect of this musical family.
The combination of songs and spoken word tracks forms a picture of a woman whose self-expression was it’s own reward. Molly never sought an audience for these peices. Yet the Unthanks have given us a glimpse behind the curtain, revealing both the happiness and pain of this twentieth-century woman. Molly’s daughter actress Gabrielle Drake gives voice to her poems, helping to maintain a family connection to the material.
Songs and poems often blend into one piece, yet even when they are separate the connection to the songs create images that sometimes surprise. On “Never Pine For The Old Love”, there’s a surprising lack of sentimentality in the thought, “we so often pine for the old love, rather than find the new.” This is a woman who has clearly learned how much we lose by clinging to what we no longer have.
Producer, pianist, and husband of Rachel Unthank, Adrian McNally has created a musical bed that highlights the songs without being fussy. Musical cohorts Chris Price (double bass and guitar), and Niopha Keegan (violin and viola), are joined by Faye MacCalman on clarinet and tenor saxophone. Together they give life to this material, providing a sympathetic backing for the voices of Rachel and Becky.
The music of Molly Drake opens a previously closed door, shedding insight into a woman’s struggle with darkness and light. The triumph of The Songs And Poems Of Molly Drake is that it reveals the thoughts of a woman previously unknown to most of us. The final thoughts belong to Molly herself:
If I have a prayer for love let it be this,
That I love wisely, well
And love what is.
Words: Bob Fish