Show of Hands,
Cold Frontier
(Hands On, 2001)

Show of Hands is an acoustic duo out of the UK that has been around for more than a decade. In 2001, they released Cold Frontier on their own label. This collection of fourteen tracks has a very polished and professional sound to it.

Steve Knightley wrote most of the tracks found on the CD. He is also the lead vocalist. Instrument-wise, Steve contributes on guitar, mandocello, concertina and cuatro. Phil Beer is known in certain circles as a multi-instrumental wizard. Even if you are unfamiliar with his name, you have certainly heard his talent if you are familiar with the Rolling Stones Steel Wheels album. On Cold Frontier Phil also contributes vocals as well as playing the guitar, mandocello, mandolin, fiddle and viola.

Steve has a pretty decent voice that seems to have been made for folk music. While it is great to enjoy a CD of mostly original songs, if an artist can make you enjoy their rendition of a classic, then that is a true sign of talent. And this is the case with "Northwest Passage." If I am familiar with this song down in Texas, surely those of you from Canada or the Northern United States have heard this a time or two over the years as well. And I can honestly say that I prefer what Show of Hands has done with the song more than what the late, great Stan Rogers did with it originally.

Perhaps the most fun song to listen to is "Things I Learnt This Year." Steve and Phil are joined by Paul Downes on mandocello, John Redmond on bohdran and Paul Wilson on melodeon. All five contributed vocally to the song which, to me, sounds like it has been influenced by the Cajun zydeco traditions of Louisiana. According to the liner notes, Steve states that this selection was "recorded in an informal and relaxed manner entirely suitable to the sentiments of the song."

Melody-wise, "You're Mine" would be one of my top choices on the CD. The music is very pretty. The title of the song might be a bit misleading in that the intent is not so much to project a sense of selfish possessiveness. The last line of the chorus is "And I was yours and you were mine." The song is (if you can't guess) about two people who have fallen for each other.

Show of Hands has released more than a dozen albums over the years, if you include three tapes that are no longer available. Cold Frontier is a decent addition to their discography. The vocals are good. The harmonies are engaging. If you already know about the band, you will enjoy what they present here. If you haven't heard of Show of Hands before, there is no reason why you can't start with Cold Frontier and work your way backwards.

[ by Wil Owen ]
Rambles: 6 April 2002