27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on 15 May 2006
Phil Beer and Steve Knightley(and the Afro Celt production team Emmerson and Mass, and Miranda Sykes) have produced a fabulous album that blurs a lot of musical boundaries.
Witness is likely to be bought and enjoyed by any fan with open ears and an interest in folk music or the wider world of rock, world music or Americana. It may seem controversial for folk purists because it doesn't always sound like folk music, and with politicans and other people who see the world in pure black and white terms.
It reminds me of some of REM's softer rocking moments, of Richard Thompson's best early work. And if you liked Seth Lakeman or Kate Rusby and the Afro Celts you should like this
It's a difficult task to produce music which spans the range I've described, but they pull it off. As the album runs from the rhythmic acoustic power and depth of ideas of Witness, Roots and the Falmouth Packet/Haul Away Joe medley to the quieter emotional stories of the Dive and Union Street(Last Post), there is the consistency of well written music and great singing .
The songs sound fully developed, mostly honed in live performance, and lifted from the acoustic sound of two excellent musicians by intelligent sympathetic production and overlaying in the studio .
And there are quirky gems:
-Innocents song/ Gwithian mixes original poetry (Charles Causley) with an overdubbed fiddle sound that could be the Velvet Underground
- ironically, when Bruce Springsteen is trying on folk for size, SOH have produced "Undertow", a perfect West Country song that Springsteen would be very proud of if he had been born in Cornwall.
If this goes on much longer, even a broadband modem will give up - listen to some samples and make up your own (broad)mind
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 23 September 2006
A lot of my peers tell me that folk music is boring, lacking musically and totally irrelevant these days - thankfully to save my credability Show of Hands have produced a gem of an album. It is an album which sees the band effortlessly blurring musical boundaries and taking them to higher level than their last album Cuntry Life - something which I thought they would not do.
The opening two tracks immediately set the listener up for a musical rollercoaster ride with two upbeat tracks - Witness and Roots. The production by Afro Celt is noticable with much better production value and bass levels than previous outings. Next up is the more laid back Dive before the tempo rises again for The Falmouth Packet which is one of those songs you want to get up and jig along to. The fifth track Undertow is an excellent ode to a young persons take on country life. If I Needed Someone follws before the almost perfect traditional folk blend of poetic lyrics and simple musical accompaniment.
Union Street (Last Post) is a beautiful duet ballad of lost love which provokes many emotions, whilst The Bet is folk storytelling set to music. Ink Devil moves back to more folk rock that would not seem out of place on a Richard Thompson LP - it's moments like this that give Show of Hands a wide ranging appeal. Scratch is possibly the weakest track on the LP and doesn't quite have the same feel as the rest of the album. However closing track All I'd Ever Lost is simple and laid back but is still able to evoke feelings like the rest of the album.
For me it is difficult to see how anyone could dismis this album as 'boring, musically lacking and irrelevant'. Musically it is a fine recording taking influences from many genres and artists, yet still keeping a sense of originality about it. Yet more the styles blend together effortlessly something that is not always acheived when spanning genres. This instantly adds an excitment to the record and makes you want to keep listening.
As for being irrelevant, Show of Hands are possibly the most relevant band around. Every song is carefully written to get a message across and not just to sound good as many songs are of late. Subjects such as love and lost are tackled in such a way that are packed with emotion that can easily be related to - something many so called emo bands would love to be able to do.
But Show of Hands really coming into their own when on home territoty. Being a band from rural West Country they are able to tap into those real matters that arise from living in a rural area. On this album alone this is tackled from two different perspectives - Undertow shows a young persons view of wanting a better life away from the country as there is little there for them whereas Roots (the best track) tackles head on the destruction of traditional English values and the need to look after and cherish our traditions.
This is an album that stands up to be listened to and challenges mindsets. It is something that is relevant to us all and I would whole heartedly recommend it to everyone.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 20 September 2006
If you know Show Of Hands already then you won't need this review. If you haven't heard them yet, then this album is a good place to start. It is modern Folk Music that should appeal even to those not used to english folk music.
The first and starting track, Witness, sets the tone for the album - good lyrics, a good tune and well produced. The second track, Roots, provides to me one of the strongest songs they have recorded - it's a view of modern life for young people and the lack of knowledge of our own heritage: "without our stories or our songs, how will we know where we've come from". Together with a strong tune and catchy chorus, it turns into almost a sea shanty at the end (accompanied by the Fishermans Friends chorus from Cornwall). Could/should be a single perhaps?
Dive is based on a true story and it is worth listening to the words carefully, expecially the first time you hear it. The Falmouth Packet contains a wonderful lyric about King Louis of France and is followed by Haul Away Joe. Undertow is haunting.
If I Needed Someone is a cover of the George Harrison song from Rubber Soul that was done for Mike Harding's Rubber Folk project on Radio 2 and leads into a melancholy view of Christmas (Innocents' Song) sung by Phil with words from (I believe) a Devonshire poet and ending with an instrumental (Gwithian).
There ends the first half of the album which is what I personally listen to the most. The other 5 songs are all good in their own right and round out a very worthwhile album.
I would recommend the album to any one interested in real music but more so I'd recommend seeing Show of Hands live.
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on 16 May 2006
This latest album from SoH is an excellent mix of traditional folk songs and ballards telling stories of modern day life in England. The highlights for me are "The Dive", "Undertow" and the stonking "Roots" which will have you yelling along as Knightley gets more and more angry about the state of the country. The Cd hasn't been out of our stereo for 2 weeks now. If you're a Show of Hands fan you need to get hold of this one now! If you're new to the band or to the folk scene in general then this would be an excellent introduction...highly recommended.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Out of the blue I heard 'Roots' on the car radio one day, and it immediately struck a responsive chord in me. What's the matter with our own culture? Why do British bands and singers sing American songs about American places in American accents? Why do we ignore the romance, the heroism, the beauty in our own back yard? Well, here's a band who have set out to redress the balance, with some gritty, folk-influenced songs from England, and the south west peninsula in particular. I'd never heard of Show of Hands before, but I liked what they were saying, so on the strength of one song heard on a car journey, I bought this album. 'Roots' is probably the best song on the album, but others are almost as good. I love songs that tell stories, and there are a few of those. 'The Dive' is spine-tingling, and some of the others are funny or ironic. Not great vioces, but well suited to this style of music, and some lively fiddle playing. If all of the tracks were as strong as 'Roots' or 'The Dive', this would get five stars or more, but there are one or two weaker ones, so only four. Well worth the money, though.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 8 February 2007
Steve and Phil have produced another litany of West County music in this their latest album. Songs range from those observing the destruction of the unique British culture for a Mid-American morass (Roots). To those charting particular memorable events such as a lonely surfacing after a dive and waiting for rescue (The Dive) or simply those recalling the minutiae of life and conversations.
All of this is backed by the musical skills of Phil and Steve and guests such as Seth Lakeman. Even Phil gets to sing the lead vocals on a song (Innocents Song/Gwithian).
This is a veritable antidote to crass pop and dance music and should be listened to frequently
In response to Skywalkers review above I was talking about the British way of life and not music specifically. If one does then one can clearly see there is no such thing as English Music as the sounds and timbres change from region to region.
Phil and Steve are not merely being nationalistic when they talk of the Cross of St George as I beleive they want it to be associated with football hooligans and facists. In all their musioc they show themselves to be liberals e.g. The Bristol Slaver
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 28 September 2007
This is an absoloutly magical album, as all Show of Hands ones are. The songs are fantastic, very lively and energetic, which is great as there have been quite a few slow tracks in the past. Highlight tracks include:
Witness - the title track. Fantastic introduction!
Roots - very well known, if you havn't heard it find the vidio to watch, you won't regret it!
Undertow - Great
Innocent's Song, Gwithian - really great violin playing and a very memorable song
The Bet - I think this is linked to Galway Farmer
Ink Devil - At first I didn't like this track, but it really grows on you!
All in all, this is a brilliant album, well worth it!
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 4 October 2006
Steve & Phil have produced a gem here. I have a hard time getting past the first two tracks, WITNESS & ROOTS. My finger keeps hitting the replay button. What a treasure these guys have been over the years, I envy you people that are able to see them live, makes me wish my ancestors had stayed in England just so I could catch a few of their shows. (Not to mention that CAMEL has now moved back over the pond!)
No dud tracks, just another great disc.
on 14 January 2008
This really is great stuff. From the impassioned (Roots) to the wistful (Union Street) this CD doesn't put a foot wrong in my opinion. It also caters for a reasonable variety of folk tastes, from the more traditional (Falmouth Packet) to the more modern (Witness).
Normal people are a key focus, the westcounty rural poor especially, but this is not at the expense of the music and adds to the feel of the album. The shot at Kim Howells "Now one minister says his vision of hell is three folk singers in a pub near wells - well I've got a vison of urban sprawl; pubs where no-one sings at all" is a good example - a nicely crafted protest against politicians criticising folk in order to appear 'street' while ignoring the general decline in music participation.
This is not however an over-bearing protest album - the earthy lyrics and delivery are very well done - direct, engaging and unfussy without being a cliche. This is an album you are unlikely to regret buying - you are much more likely to enjoy it more and more over time.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 4 March 2007
Like another reviewer, I caught a Show Of Hands song on radio by chance. What real luck. I took a further chance and got this album. No regrets. These guys clearly know how to write REAL heart-tugging wonderful songs and music that is more than roots, it's core. Not only that but it's delivered with a unique flair and passionate touch that soars out of every moment of every song. This is genius at its most raw. If you miss this, you've missed out on an opportunity to listen to an incisive take on the the human spirit that is unsurpassed in the modern age.