Monday 27 November 2023

Album Review: Show of Hands - Roots 2 The Best of Show of Hands


England's South-West may well be their roots, but the world has been the oyster for Show of Hands in the aftermath of emerging around thirty years ago. The cupboard has barely enough room for any more superlatives describing the lengthy stint of Steve Knightly and Phil Beer for the entirety and the dynamic addition of Miranda Sykes since 2004. Now the inevitable time is deemed right to wrap things up and gift fans a considerable compilation of what's been cooking over the last fifteen years. The reason for the halved timespan forming this compilation is that ROOTS 1 appeared in 2007 and what simpler title for its follow up focusing on the intervening period than ROOTS 2. Whatever the trio do in the future, whether solo or some sort of veiled reunion, the current phase is set to be closed with twin tours and this comprehensive addition to a rich and varied back catalogue. 

Any dip into the British folk scene in recent times (and further back) will have run into the work of Show of Hands in some format. Extensive live shows running into the hundreds, seemingly permanent fixtures at festivals and perennial invitees to awards shows, only the blinded folk eye would have missed out, whether you brushed the music lightly or were fully immersed. There is a similar effect from this final release in that deep rooted fans will lap up the decade and a half summary, while those from a distance can get a good feel of what made Show of Hands such a treasured act on the folk circuit.

ROOTS 2 is a twin-disc release featuring over thirty tracks lasting a two and a quarter hour duration.  Maybe heavy listening in a single sitting, but sectioning into smaller chunks will enable the full force of the band's compelling sound to take root. The content is a mixture of studio recordings and magically capturing select live versions often lifted from celestial settings like Exeter Cathedral. Show of Hands have regularly swayed between putting out studio efforts and framing the gig experience for recorded posterity. So it is representative that this farewell bow combines the two.

Within the timespan captured in ROOTS 2, the band went into the studio four times for new material and tracks from ARROGANCE, IGNORANCE AND GREED (2009), WAKE THE UNION (2012), THE LONG WAY HOME (2016) and BATTLEFIELD DANCE FLOOR (2019) form a large part of this release. Rich pickings are to be found segmented in originals such as 'Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed', covers of Steve Earle's 'The Devil's Right Hand', the Leonard Cohen-composed 'First We Take Manhattan' and 'Next Best Western' from Richard Shindell's catalogue or the occasions where Miranda Sykes tales lead in 'Sea Glass' and the utterly adorable 'The Lily and the Rose'. Also for a slice of spicy diversity, check out the collaborations with Madrid-based roots outfit Track Dogs where a touch of brass never harmed anything. 

The interweaving of Beer's mainly instrumental work, Knightly's forceful vocals with the majority of the writing and Sykes' majestic double bass playing around a diverse bag of songs ranging from anthem to poignant status was core to the Show of Hands success. They were right on the mark with delivery as fans of all persuasions jumped on board. Now is the time to disembark and present one final offering in ROOTS 2. A multi-dimensional retrospective open to all comers, both old and new


Friday 24 November 2023

Album Review: Afton Wolfe - Harvest

THE HARVEST is the latest record from Nashville roots artist Anton Wolfe and is straight out of the 'keep it in the family' playbook. The unique status of this 7-track effort is that all are compositions by Wolfe's father-in-law LJ Halliburton, who appears to be a prolific but largely undiscovered songwriter. It's probably appropriate to call this record a project such is the route of progression and is Wolfe's second record of the year on the back of a 5-track EP released in February. 

The standout song from this short sample of both artist's work is the melody driven 'Mississippi' that comes across wonderfully as a galactic collide of 60s lush pop and rough blues. Not your usual bedfellows but it works in this context. The feel of this lauded 3 minutes is in contrast to the understated closer 'Here to Stay' that appears rinsed in melancholy and is one for a pensive moment. This sound is not reflective of the record as exemplified by the uptempo rocking effort 'Til the River No Longer Flows' that holds court in full guitar-mode as the running order turns the corner. 

The pivotal song on the release is a curious offering. The partly spoken 'Hello, Mr Wolf' sets the mind pondering on the theme and inspiration. On an easier sound trajectory is the gently rolling starter 'Harvest' that proves a smooth passageway into the record and questions the life-starting properties of the gathering season. We get bluesier and slightly rougher in the self-explained 'New Orleans Going Down'. The collection is completed by the gently swaying memorable number 'Lost Prayers' that probably nestles just below the aforementioned standout as songs to draw on in the future.

Records like THE HARVEST by Afton Wolfe highlight how music can be curated from so many different starting points. For some it may just be a stopping place on a journey following an artist, for others it may be the impetus to explore further. There is sufficient pull from this sample to warrant a deeper dive.