Witness U.K.

Before the Calm

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When Witness U.K.'s debut album, Before the Calm, first came out in England in 1999, the hype was overwhelming. The British press exalted Witness as Great Britain's answer to R.E.M., often describing Witness as a band that could draw on such North American influences as R.E.M., Counting Crows, Tim Buckley, and Neil Young yet maintain a distinctly British identity. British journalists also made a big deal out of the fact that Witness came from Wigan, the small town in Northern England that spawned the Verve and Kajagoogoo (which Witness sounds nothing like). It wasn't until 2000 that the rock/pop/folk CD had a release date in the U.S., and MCA no doubt hoped that the American media would share England's enthusiasm. Before the Calm is, in fact, a very promising debut, although it won't necessarily win listeners over with the first listen. Witness U.K.'s introspective, melancholy songs favor subtlety and understatement -- this isn't an album that goes for immediacy or tries to pull the listener in right away with catchy hooks. But the more one listens to this CD, the more one realizes just how moving and thoughtful songs like "Heirloom," "Scars," and "My Friend Will See Me Through" are. R.E.M., Buckley, Young, and Counting Crows are all valid comparisons -- especially early R.E.M. -- although such comparisons shouldn't obscure the fact that Witness U.K. is an appealing band in its own right.

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