UK duo The Shires have steadily been building a reputation as one of the most exciting UK Country acts on the current blossoming scene. Ben Earle & Crissie Rhodes found each other via social media and their rapid rise to being signed by US-based label Decca Nashville is the stuff of dreams. On 2nd March their debut album “Brave” is released and looks set to be a huge success.
The album kicks off with the slow-burn uplifting “Tonight”. Opening fittingly with the ‘it’s a brand new day…‘ lyric, The Shires bring an exciting modern energy to Country. “Tonight” benefits from an absolute stormer of a chorus, complete with a singalong section perfect for live shows. “Nashville Grey Skies” marvellously brings a little of Music City to UK shores, albeit a less sunny version. The mid tempo track is packed full of clever lyrics, features impassioned vocals from both singers & some glorious steel guitar.
An undoubted highlight comes in the form of title track “Brave”, a stunningly beautiful ballad. Opening with only a piano and Crissie’s tender vocals before switching to goosebump-inducing vocals from Ben. The two join together in perfect harmony just as that big chorus explodes into life. Proof it were needed that these two are fabulous singers. Current single “Friday Night” is a pure slice of fun, pop-Country at its’ finest. Drum loops & banjo to the fore, this party anthem allows the duo to cut loose and rabble-rouse to great effect.
Piano-led ballad “I Just Wanna Love You” serves up Country with a little Soul. This sweet, gentle track raises a smile every listen as Ben & Crissie softly reflect on the value of love over the material things in life. Hands down the catchiest track on offer is the ear-worm that is “All Over Again”. With its’ stop-start melody, ingenious harmonies & driving banjo the track is 3 minutes 15 seconds of absolute joy to replay & replay…& replay!
Frantic guitar chords launch rocking track “Jekyll And Hyde”, which definitely shows a wild side to The Shires. Slightly re-treading familiar ground lyrically the song more than makes up for it with pure excitement and Crissie’s powerhouse delivery. A song which displays the creative force these two can be when writing together is “State Lines”, a stirring ballad which likens emotions & traits of a lover to US states. It is rare to find such a unique take on a love song, The Shires have crafted one which captivates the listener with its’ marvellous wordplay.
When seeing The Shires live last year on their Homegrown Tour with Ward Thomas it was a surprise to see them open with ballad “Black And White” and not an uptempo cut. As it turned out it was a masterstroke, this sublime tale of accepting nothing less than that perfect love was the perfect introduction to the duo. Alternating solo vocals on the tender verses before teaming up on the chorus it showcases The Shires at their absolute best. Sounding glorious on the album the song also silenced the venue live with the crowd held spellbound. “Made In England” is a heartfelt ode to the things we hold dear about living here and it’s pleasing to see the duo sticking to their roots and cutting a song for us.
The album closes with acoustic track “How Many Love Songs” and its’ slow-waltz feel. Beautifully sung and flawlessly played I could not help but feel it was one ballad too many at the end of the album. Going out with a track akin to the awesome “All Over Again” may have served the project better.
That final (minor) criticism aside, “Brave” more than lives up to the hype we have all generated excitedly awaiting its’ release. There is a reason why The Shires have risen so quickly, they have an incredible amount of talent. Both are tremendous vocalists, Crissie’s impressively powerful vocals also have a real sweetness to them, whilst Ben has a hugely appealing husky tone to his voice.
In harmony they sound sublime and even more so on thoughtful, original material they have penned together. Proudly waving the flag for Country music in the UK, the duo epitomise the title of their fabulous debut album, never afraid to take risks or to stand out from the crowd. Well done Ben & Crissie.
Brave is released on 2nd March.