Show of Hands
Arrogance, Ignorance & Greed

Release Date: October 26, 2009
Produced by: Stu Hanna
Format: CD



Bob Metcalf


Show of Hands is billed as a folk duo of Steve Knightley (guitars, vocals, assorted instruments) and Phil Beer (guitars, violin/fiddle, vocals) but they are far more than that.  They have been together since the late 80s, and by my count this is their 10th studio effort – they have a fair number of live collections as well.  Hailing from the West Country of England, they are constantly touring, sometimes with other musicians but often just the two of them.  I’ve been lucky enough to see them as a duo three times and the rich sound they produce causes you to wonder where the other musicians are hiding on stage!

Steve Knightley, a gifted songwriter with a modern aesthetic, composes most of the original songs.  They usually cover a handful of traditional British folk tunes on their LPs that they rearrange and also their takes on some more modern music.  So with the originals and covers, you hear a wide range of diverse music – and great it is too.  From rollicking sea shanties to dark quiet laments, to songs that might be on an alternative album to straight ahead rock, you find them always pushing the boundaries of traditional folk music.  Many years ago Steve Knightley cut his teeth in a pop/rock band, and that hook/chorus formula he used in those days makes for interesting melodies intertwined with the folk songs he writes today.  Phil Beer also has an interesting background.  In addition to his having been in the Albion Band, he has also toured as a backing musician with the Rolling Stones!  With both of them very familiar with all sorts of popular music, the songs they perform all have an edge to them that separates them from most other modern folk artists I’ve heard.

On Arrogance Ignorance and Greed (AIG – could this possibly be intentional?), I believe they have created one of their best works.  Pure traditional songs (two are a cappella), mixed with up-tempo soft rockers and two interesting covers: Senor (Tales of Yankee Power) by Bob Dylan and Secret World by Peter Gabriel.  (They have a CD called Covers that collects a lot of their early cover versions).  The subjects are quite controversial as well: evolution vs. religion, corporate greed, and the plight of people trying to survive.  What I think they do best is portray life in England, past and present, and the daily life of those who struggle to get by.  Each song, original, traditional or cover, resonates with the listener in two ways: lyrically with life challenges that we can identify with, and with haunting melodies that, to these ears, sound modern and fresh.  The CD, beautifully recorded, includes a booklet with all the lyrics.

Steve’s voice has a mournful, rich quality; Phil’s is kin to a strong whisper.  Together they blend with beautiful results.  While both guitarists are superb, Phil’s beautiful fiddle and string work is some of the purist I’ve heard and deserves special mention.  Miranda Sykes, a superb vocalist as well as a killer double-bassist also joins them on this LP.  Her style of playing reminds me of Danny Thompson (Fairport Convention, John Martyn) with rich, looping lines.  She has been part of Show of Hands’ live set since 2004 and fills out their music beautifully on this recording.  There are also some session players (keyboards, drums on some tracks), but the sound mix is such that it does not water down the two powerful leads. 

As I said before, Show of Hands is billed as a folk group but if you are not jumping up and down about that, take it from me that the music has many other elements to it – you owe it to yourself to have a listen at their site (where you can purchase all of their music at reasonable prices).  This is thinking music presented with class and great musicianship.  I hope you will give this great group a try.









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212 Frech

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