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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank grew up in England, living and breathing folk music. Their parents were both singers and the family was known on the folk festival circuit for its clog-dancing routine.

Well, the sisters now have their own group called the Unthanks. Our critic Tom Moon says on their latest album, called "Here's the Tender Coming," the Unthanks challenge folk tradition in subtle ways.

(Soundbite of song, "Here's the Tender Coming")

THE UNTHANKS (Music Group): (Singing) Here's the tender coming, brass and horse and man. Oh, dear Hinnie(ph), what (unintelligible).

TOM MOON: When traditional folk musicians attempt expand their audience, that can sometimes mean super-high-gloss production, maybe tricked-out electronic loops behind an old Celtic ballad, not something like this.

(Soundbite of song, "Here's the Tender Coming")

THE UNTHANKS: (Singing) (Unintelligible). Here's the tender coming, brass and horse and man. Oh, dear Hinnie, what (unintelligible). Here's the tender coming of (unintelligible). Here's the tender coming (unintelligible).

MOON: Rachel Unthank and her younger sister Becky know bunches of old, old songs like that one, which is the title track from their new record, but they dwell in the here and now. They listen to Radiohead. They love the dark epics of Antony and the Johnsons. After several albums, the Unthanks have arrived at a sound that connects the ancient and the modern, using unusual combinations of instruments and ear-stretching, sometimes mystical, vocals.

(Soundbite of music)

THE UNTHANKS: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

The Unthank sisters consider themselves to be storytellers in the grand English folk tradition. They start out conventionally enough, sharing tales of drink, despair and death. But there's usually some twist or a subversive variation lurking inside the eerie and strangely beautiful backdrops. For example, when they make use of a common folk-song device like a sustained drone, the sisters take it to a more agitated place, using slight tonal changes that bear the influence of the minimalist composer Steve Reich.

(Soundbite of music)

What the sisters are attempting is risky. Folk purists tend to want their epics served straight, and sure enough, the Unthanks have drawn some unlove from England's traditional folk community. But that's a small population, and the transfixing songs on this album have already traveled far beyond it. It's easy to hear why. At a time when crossing over to a wider audience can mean radical gestures that spoil the essence, the sisters move just a step or two from tradition. It turns out that's all it takes to transport folk to a new realm.

(Soundbite of music)

THE UNTHANKS: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

SIEGEL: The new album from The Unthanks is called "Here's the Tender Coming." Our reviewer is Tom Moon.

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