Wyatt's material, rooted as it is in the same folk traditions from which the sisters spring, is more of a natural fit for them not only musically but culturally. This isn't to say they are lacking in musical sophistication, because the arrangements by the band's producer and keyboard player Adrian McNally aren't simplistic by any means. Yet, it feels like they have far more of a natural affinity for work based on more traditional folk stylings.
Wyatt's songs seemed to liberate the band more and the second half of the CD was far more exuberant, especially a rousing rendition of "Dondestan" that sounded like it included some of the clog dancing the sisters had promised their audience earlier on in the show. Of course, not all of the tunes were "dance" numbers. "Free Will And Testament", for example, was equally as introspective as anything done in the first half of the show, but regardless of its tempo, The Unthanks seemed a little bit more relaxed and open playing this music. In fact, the last time I had heard a concert with this unique a mixture of musical professionalism and "down home" atmosphere was watching Kate and Anna McGarrigle perform.
Diversions Vol. 1: The Songs Of Robert Wyatt and Antony & The Johnsons will not only give those who appreciate the music of the artists being covered a chance to hear evocative and thoughtful interpretations of their work, it offers listeners an indication of The Unthanks' versatility. The fact they are equally capable of performing the work of two such different artists with almost equal comfort and ability is astounding. For those like me who had never heard them before, it makes for a remarkable introduction to their music and whets your appetite for more. The fact that it was recorded live in front of an audience makes it even more impressive and left me hoping they'll consider touring on this side of the Atlantic ocean some time in the near future.
(Photo Credit: Pip April)