Witness U.K.

Under a Sun

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This may be the only recorded document denouncing copious reports that Witness U.K. is "Wigan's answer to R.E.M."; this is a music journalist's quote found in the band's press kit. The only similarities to be drawn between the two bands is the sensitivity shared in their lyrics, earnest guitar work, and melodious and lofty vocal harmonizing. But many bands -- for example, Travis -- share these qualities. Honestly, Witness U.K. sounds like an Americana band, a country-rock outfit with elements of '60s folk-rock, set against a contemporary backdrop of mid-tempo music rife with textured guitars. (This is all truly unique since the band hails from the United Kingdom.) Lead singer Gerard Starkie's sensitive, searching, and dynamic voice sounds like a cross between Barry Gibb, Neil Young, and Aaron Neville. Now that this is all put to rest, Witness U.K.'s second release, Under a Sun, is a poignant, melodic, thoughtfully crafted piece of music, and a moving listening experience. Several cuts best capture the band's seemingly wide-eyed wonder and its sometimes disillusioned view of the world and the people who inhabit it. The Simon & Garfunkel-esque "You Are All My Own Invention" is delicate in its verses and it surges, vocally and musically, in its choruses. Elsewhere, the country-rock-styled title track paints a picture of what it feels like to be a fragile soul in a cold and cruel world, watching it in awe as it quickly spirals around, leaving the observer sometimes dizzy. You get the feeling that Starkie, who wrote the songs' lyrics, feels like a babe in the woods, naked and vulnerable. How brave and refreshing it is to hear a band take this position and express it so well. This is a wonderfully textured album, full of sensitivity, warmth, wonder, and emotion. And Witness U.K. completely belies the sounds often associated with a Brit rock band. This wistful and pensive album looks out at the big world through the sensitive eyes of Starkie. It sometimes makes you want to run for cover and hide someplace safe or go out and effect radical changes. In either case, it makes you feel -- more and more with each listen. Under a Sun slowly reveals itself, and it's the gradual and continual discovery, among other fine qualities, that makes it such an infectious and important recording.

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