Country music and the UK is not something you hear in the same sentence too often. Unlike the US where country music is part of the mainstream, and a popular genre in its own right, the UK tends to shy away from anything that is even vaguely country. It’s a sad fact that makes country artists remix the country out of their sound (we’re looking at you Hunter Hayes) in the hope of getting a hit single on this side of the pond. Over the last couple of years, we’ve started to see homegrown country acts making a mark and one such act is duo The Shires comprising Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes.
With plenty of support from BBC Radio 2, The Shires have been picking up quite the buzz ahead of the release of their debut album Brave. The album follows the release of 2014’s The Green Note EP and the success of the duo’s singles Nashville Grey Skies and Tonight. The Shires are the first UK signing to the revived Decca Nashville label and they are due to cement their status as rising country music stars at next weekend’s C2C: Country To Country.
Brave is a record that mixes country sensibilities with pop and folk leanings. The Shires have created their own sound and they aren’t trying to recreate the sound of American country. Anyone expecting thigh-slapping, yee-hawing and line-dancing need to look elsewhere, and actually need to educate themselves outside of that stereotypically narrow view of the genre.
The album opens with the double-whammy of singles Tonight and Nashville Grey Skies. Like any good country duo, The Shires have perfected their tight harmonies that soar on the choruses of their songs. Rhodes and Earle have voices that can stand on their own but perfectly complement each other when they come together. Current single Friday Night mixes banjo riffs with strong vocals for a radio-friendly ditty that celebrates the virtues of letting go at the end of the week.
The Shires shine the brightest when they keep things simple. I Just Wanna Love You is the strongest track on the record and pairs the duo with a gorgeous piano melody. Earle and Rhodes sing with passion and their vocals are sure to give you a little shiver. Another highlight is the memorable ballad State Lines which has the epic feel of the best country ballads.
Elsewhere on Brave, the duo get their closest to mainstream US country on the raucous Jekyll and Hyde, celebrate their roots on the gentle Made in England, and close the album with the beautiful How Many Love Songs.
Brave is country music done the UK way and The Shires can be proud of their achievement. They aren’t pandering to anyone else’s sound and they’re doing things on their own terms. Brave should be the start of a long and promising career for the duo on both sides of the Atlantic. We’re pleased to see that homegrown country music is finally getting the recognition it deserves and The Shires are pioneering the current movement.
Watch the video for The Shires’ Friday Night below: