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The Shires - Good Years (Album Review)

Wednesday, 18 March 2020 Written by Simon Ramsay

Before venturing any further, let’s address the stylistic elephant in the room shall we? The Shires are already the UK’s most successful country act of all time, but are they really a country act? In the traditional sense, no, and purists who worship Waylon, Willie and Cash should definitely give them a wide berth. But anyone who enjoys Little Big Town and Lady Antebellum, timeless pop acts who employ a scattering of country textures, will lap up ‘Good Years’ in the same way selfish people stockpile toilet rolls.

Since forming in 2012, Ben Earles and Chrissie Rhodes have walked a fine line betwixt pop and country. Coming from the UK, they were never going to authentically replicate the lyrical focus or classic twang of their Nashville heroes, but they’ve always been true to the genre’s honest, sentimental storytelling while also delivering the kind of modern sound that’s dominated Music Row for the last decade or so.

Yet their previous album, ‘Accidentally On Purpose’, was a full on pop affair that suggested their trademark organic approach may have been surrendered in order to land the commercial jackpot. 

Fortunately, ‘Good Years’ finds the band returning to their sonic roots courtesy of a more reflective set of songs that, without sacrificing the duo’s addictive melodic panache and buoyant crossover refrains, allow the record’s ruminative lyrics and wonderful vocals to bathe in the limelight once more. 

Thankfully the deployment of a vocoder at the beginning of Lightning Strikes is a red herring rather than a continuation of their ‘Accidentally On Purpose’ direction. Penned by the excellent Cam, its bittersweet, nostalgic musings are married to the kind of glorious country-pop strains Taylor Swift pioneered before abandoning Nashville.

Likewise, the communal fiesta of Independence Day and piano driven title track, which nods to Bruce Hornsby’s The Way It is, offer sun-kissed sentiments to sing along to. Only No Secrets, which sounds like something from their last record, is too much of a modern pop reach and, consequently, doesn’t belong on this album.

As ever, the band’s core strength remains Rhodes’ show stealing voice and Earles’ (no vocal slouch himself) ability to provide her with material she can transform into pure gold. On The Day I Die’s potentially cliched carpe diem sentiments are expressed with a wealth of rousing conviction, while she sets fire to every single lyric and harmony on powerhouse ballad About Last Night and Thank You Whiskey.

When a vocalist is capable of infusing songs with so much feeling it’s best to hear them sing about something true. As such, the meditative edge of New Year and Crazy Days typify the focus of this record as past moments of pleasure and pain, although melancholic and sometimes lacking strong personal insight, are delivered with the kind of positive sense of closure the Shires excel at. 

Certain songs on ‘Good Years’ continue to suggest that, like earlier efforts, the band will have even more to offer once they mature out of their current phase and embrace a more stripped back approach where the focus on their voices and storytelling is even stronger. But until then, ‘Good Years’ is a consistently comforting and uplifting offering.

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