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The Shires - 10 Year Plan (Album Review)

Wednesday, 23 March 2022 Written by Simon Ramsay

It doesn’t count as sticking your neck out to say that if you loved The Shires’ first four albums there’s absolutely no reason you won’t fall Stetson over spurs for ‘10 Year Plan.’  On a bright and cheery effort, the hugely likeable duo once again execute their intentions with characteristic, down-to-earth charisma and even push the envelope a little further to boot. The only question is, will they need to give it a bigger nudge in future?

Although it’s debatable whether or not The Shires qualify as a proper country band, they certainly fit in with the likes of Lady A, Little Big Town, early Taylor Swift and all those other contemporary acts who, armed with radio-friendly pop melodies, modern production techniques and huge crossover appeal, gatecrashed Music Row and ruffled a lot of traditionalist feathers.   

Unsurprisingly, that’s exactly what Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes deliver in spades again on ‘10 Year Plan’. From widescreen glossy anthems (Cut Me Loose, Sparks Fly) and achingly romantic ballads (Side By Side, Forever Tonight) to perky pick me ups (Baby We’re Rich), this record is jam-packed with some of the most contagious hooks and beautiful harmonies the band has delivered.

There is, however, a slight flipside to that winning formula. Clearly still chasing a hit to belatedly crack the hallowed American country market, A Bar Without You, which could be a less devilish version of Luke Bryan and Karen Fairchild’s payback smash Home Tonight, sees the pair inching dangerously close to generic cookie-cutter territory. Yet their charming sincerity, and genuine belief in what they’re doing just about allows them to get away with such a calculated move.

They do remain overly enthralled by the modern pop-country movement, though, which could become a problem as that increasingly oversaturated scene sounds rather watered down and dated. With independent acts such as Tyler Childers, Sturgill Simpson and Cody Jinks making waves with more authentic, traditional-sounding fare, The Shires should be encouraged to go further down the appealing road they explore on this album’s more organic, rootsy numbers.

Plot Twist recalls The Civil Wars’ tender and hypnotic confessions, while the stripped-down Peggy I’m Sorry, which finds Earle crooning one of the best country songs he’s written, proves they could say a lot more if they forget about chasing trends that, quite frankly, aren’t worth the effort. And then there’s Wild Hearts, a wonderful track that could, and probably should, be the blueprint for future releases.  

Bringing wild west country instrumentation to the fore, but still peaking with a classy, transatlantic Fleetwood Mac chorus, it echoes how The Wandering Hearts have successfully married timeless rootsy textures and infectious earworm melodies to create a sound that won’t be dated to any particular scene or era.

An album that, surely inspired by the unpredictable time we’ve all just lived through, endeavours to find certainty and safety, ‘10 Year Plan’ is a fine effort that will certainly add copious rays of sunshine to your day, even if it does elicit the feeling that The Shires, from here on out, need to allow their endearing artistry to evolve naturally and not be shaped by outside forces with a different plan for their career.

The Shires Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Thu April 21 2022 - DORSET Weymouth Pavilion
Fri April 22 2022 - ABERYSTWYTH Aberystwyth Arts Centre
Sat April 23 2022 - CARDIFF St David's Hall
Mon April 25 2022 - BRIGHTON Brighton Dome
Wed April 27 2022 - BASINGSTOKE Anvil
Thu April 28 2022 - TORQUAY Princess Theatre
Sat April 30 2022 - STOKE Victoria Hall
Sun May 01 2022 - BRISTOL O2 Academy Bristol
Mon May 02 2022 - LIVERPOOL Philharmonic Hall
Wed May 04 2022 - CARLISLE Sands Centre
Thu May 05 2022 - GATESHEAD Sage
Fri May 06 2022 - YORK York Barbican Centre
Sun May 08 2022 - EDINBURGH Liquid Room
Mon May 09 2022 - ABERDEEN Beach Ballroom
Wed May 11 2022 - LINCOLN Engine Shed
Thu May 12 2022 - FOLKESTONE Leas Cliff Hall
Fri May 13 2022 - BEDFORD Bedford Corn Exchange
Sun May 15 2022 - CAMBRIDGE Corn Exchange
Mon May 16 2022 - MANCHESTER Bridgewater Hall
Tue May 17 2022 - BIRMINGHAM Symphony Hall
Thu May 19 2022 - OXFORD New Theatre - Oxford
Fri May 20 2022 - GUILDFORD G Live
Sat May 21 2022 - IPSWICH Regent Theatre
Mon May 23 2022 - NOTTINGHAM Royal Concert Hall
Tue May 24 2022 - LONDON London Palladium
Mon August 29 2022 - CHEPSTOW Castell Roc

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