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SHOW OF HANDS "Covers" Hands on Music HMCD127

I first heard Show of Hands on "Folk On 2", back when the knowledgeable Jim Lloyd could be relied upon to keep you up-to-date; it was a fine version of "Bonnie Light Horseman" from their first album, "Live '92". Excellent reviews resulted in extensive appearances at festivals the following year and a tour with Ralph McTell. Steve Knightley and Phil Beer were on their way.

Since then, I've observed their inexorable rise from the fine club act they always were (to their credit, they still play the smaller venues) into the phenomenon which filled the Albert Hall in 1996. Each successive album was a winning mix of Knightley's own well-crafted songs, carefully-selected material from the best contemporary songwriters and traditional material, culminating in the polished "Dark Fields", whose "thoughtful lyricism and mood shifts" impressed even the hard-boiled Daily Telegraph reviewer.

I've wished sometimes that 'Britain's foremost acoustic group' would do more of the traditional material which they interpret so effectively, much as I've regretted the squandering of Roy Bailey's fine tenor on contemporaneous whimsy. Perhaps that's why I approached the new album, on which 'trad.' appears only once, with trepidation. Unjustifiably, as it turns out; Beer and Knightley have assembled an eclectic collection ranging from Tom Robinson to Bob Dylan. There's a gutsy version of Lowell George's 'Willin'' and a sensitive reading of Ian Anderson's 'Wond'ring Aloud'. Mike Chapman's lament to a lost love, 'No Song To Sing', is complemented by Ralph McTell's leaving song, 'The Setting', skilfully interwoven with 'Mary From Dungloe'. Peter Gabriel's 'Don't Give Up' is genuinely moving, and the album concludes triumphantly with an acoustic 'Waterloo Sunset'.

If you're a fan you're bound to enjoy this CD, superbly produced as usual by Gerard O'Farrell. Even if you're not, it's unlikely that you'll be less than impressed.

Dave Tuxford

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This album was reviewed in Issue 40 of The Living Tradition magazine.