Show of Hands Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

A committed, convincing reinvention of a Brit folk institution.

Colin Irwin 2009

After 15 years, 19 albums and endless touring adventures – including three sell-out concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall – you might assume Show of Hands wouldn’t still have an original thought in their heads. Yet, battle-scarred and world-weary as they may appear, the hardy English West Country duo of songwriting craftsman Steve Knightley and virtuoso multi-instrumentalist Phil Beer – now seemingly permanently augmented by double bass player/singer Miranda Sykes – come out punching hard on this extraordinarily earthy effort.

Singing so close to the microphone it feels like he’s climbed right inside your ear, Knightley’s boldly coarse delivery of Lowlands instantly sets up the mood of rugged defiance that characterises the record. It’s sure to astound those who maintain a perception of Show of Hands as populist-driven Springsteen wannabes.

Two strong factors prevail here. Prior to recording, Knightley endured a couple of painfully emotional years as his mother, brother and young son all battled serious illness, directly contributing to the album’s inherent darkness. In IED: Science and Nature, disease is sinisterly portrayed as an unexploded bomb waiting to be detonated by forces unknown amid ghostly echoes of the traditional song The Trees They Do Grow High; and the gospel-tinged The Worried Well is a full-throttle assault on alternative medicine.

Contributing even more significantly to the overriding rawness is the decision, in a brave leap of faith, to hand entire control to producer Stu Hanna – one half of the young duo Megson – who unceremoniously strips Show of Hands of all the trimmings and bluster that previously made them difficult to love. The mix of Knightley’s intense material and Hanna’s brutally direct production gives Show of Hands an almost punk potency.

Other forces come into play as the album unfolds. Mawkin:Causley add buoyancy to the disturbing story of looting recounted on The Napoli; Darwin is dissected on Evolution; two enlightened covers of Dylan’s Senor and Peter Gabriel’s Secret World add brighter colours; and Jackie Oates almost steals the album, duetting sensuously with Knightley on the blazing The Keys of Canterbury.

A committed, convincing reinvention of a Brit folk institution.

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