The Long Way Home is the 15th studio album from Steve Knightley and Phil Beer, the English roots and folk duo who have performed under the name Show of Hands for 25 years. 25 years and 15 studio albums. Take a moment and let that sink in.
25 years and 15 studio albums. Career milestones that elude most artists, and those that attain them run the risk of ending up pale imitations of their former selves, unwitting self-parodies seeking to remain relevant beyond their time and place. Luckily Show of Hands don’t fall into this category. They know what they do, and they do it well, delivering an album that is rewarding to repeat listeners.
The album opens strongly with Breme Fell at Hastings, a ballad and lament of the Norman defeat of the Saxon defenders at the Battle of Hastings in the 11th century. Despite opening with such heavy subject matter, the listener doesn’t need to brace themselves for a heavy, conceptual, onslaught as in short order the listener is left floating on the sweet melodies and gorgeous harmonies of songs like Hambledon Fair, or being fortified by the hearty sea-shanty, Keep Hauling.
The Long Way Home is an eclectic album, as far as a clear-cut folk album can be, with Show of Hands deftly ranging across different styles of folk and roots music. The true constants of the album are strong musicianship, driven by multi-instrumentalist Phil Beer; Steve Knightley’s perfect arrangements and lyric sensibilities; and clean production values which never cross over into being sterile. More thought could have been given to the ordering of the songs as early listenings resulted in a sense of fatigue and sameness just after the halfway mark, but listening on random, and later listenings, proved immensely pleasant and rewarding. Folk aficionados will probably maintain that there isn’t a problem with the song order, but more casual visitors to folk may disagree yet shouldn’t feel discouraged from fully exploring the album.
25 years and 15 studio albums. A richly deserved legacy which, judging from The Long Way Home, will not be diminished anytime soon.