Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes – AKA The Shires – have been arguably one of the most successful and popular UK country acts since they formed in 2013. As well as being the first country act to have a top 10 album with their 2015 debut Brave, they’ve won a CMA Award, become fixtures at C2C: Country to Country and sold out venues across the UK on their headline tours. Their most recent album, 2016’s My Universe, was the fastest-selling UK country album ever, so it’s safe to say anticipation is high for their new release, Accidentally On Purpose.
The album opens with the uptempo The Hard Way, which sets the template for much of the record. It’s full of claps and snaps, with the nostalgic lyrics contrasting the upbeat melody. Ben and Crissie’s vocals blend together nicely and I like the playful touches when she sings ‘I’m fine’ in the second verse – it’s a different take on the call-and-answer approach used elsewhere and works very well.
The mix of pop influences and country elements runs through the record, particularly on the summery, twangy Echo (which wouldn’t sound out of place as a Eurovision entry) and defiant lead single Guilty, with its rocky guitars, singalong chorus and wailing sirens in the background. However, The Shires have always been strong on their ballads and that’s still on show here, such as the wistful Sleepwalk which brings out a slightly soulful edge to Crissie’s otherwise sweet voice, the sparse Ahead Of The Storm with its driving rhythm and folky influences, and the dreamy, romantic Speechless.
For me the standout track on the album is Stay The Night. The atmospheric intro really emphasises Ben’s subtle, almost-spoken word vocal, and as the first verse goes on he gets a great chance to show off the power and richness in his voice. As a whole the song blends pop and country aspects really well and the soaring chorus is going to sound great live. The delicate title track is also a great example of Ben’s strengths as a songwriter; it captures the trepidation of embarking on a new romance really well and I loved the small details in the lyrics, such as ‘my alarm went off at 6.05’.
The album closes with Loving You Too Long, which begins with a gentle piano melody that feels almost childlike. It’s the most romantic song on the record and has a lovely sense of the comfort that a long-term relationship can bring whilst still feeling new and exciting. The song also really highlights the quality of Crissie’s voice, which balances nicely with Ben’s lighter-than-usual vocals.
Overall Accidentally On Purpose shows that The Shires are embracing a different sound but without messing too much with the aspect fans loved from their previous albums. It’s an enjoyable album with plenty for fans to enjoy and a relaxed vibe throughout. However, for me I felt that there was a little less emotional impact than I’d been hoping for, particularly on the slower songs, and I would have liked a few more upbeat moments. But if you’re looking for a country-pop album to soundtrack a sunny summer’s day, then this is worth a listen.
Track listing: 1. The Hard Way 2. Echo 3. Guilty 4. Sleepwalk 5. Accidentally On Purpose 6. Stay The Night 7. Ahead Of The Storm 8. Speechless 9. River Of Love 10. Strangers 11. World Without You 12. Loving You Too Long Release date: 20th April 2018 Record label: Decca Records