Tom Waits Covers: The Unthanks Cover No-one Knows I’m Gone

by Brendan Strong

The Unthanks could be compared with Tom Waits in their distinctive, yet hugely expansive sound. They have played a huge repertoire of songs; yet you’ll know instantly that they are performing. No One Knows I’m Gone demonstrates this as well as their covers of Antony and the Johnsons, and Robert Wyatt among others.

I said Lisa Hannigan had inhabited the whole song of Martha, and the Bling Boys of Alabama became the character that narrates the gospel/blues of Way Down in the Hole: the Unthanks make both happen with No On Knows I’m Here. I think it fair to say that every song they sing (whether their own, or a cover), their voices are the character(s) of the song(s). These voices, full of their own natural character are complemented by an arrangement that echoes the dark, perhaps sinister edge of the song –

(An aside, I recall when George W Bush announced they had started bombing Iraq. On my way home from work that evening, John Kelly began his Night Train radio show (just after the 11 pm news, if I recall correctly) with Tom Waits singing No One Knows I’m Here, and it has coloured my perception of the song since).

– that feeling of impending doom is carried beautifully by the music, a strain of the voices singing in a slow staccato (if you will) that seems to carry dread, from which suddenly bursts hope: “The rain makes such a lovely sound, to those who are 6 feet underground” rolls along, but then we are held up again, as the words again slow us down with that strange and slow staccato, and the melody returns to that more sinister register “The leaves will bury every year, and no one knows I’m gone”.

I could go on (as you can tell), but I will stop. I hope you enjoy it.

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