What a roller-coaster of a week it’s been for The Shires and their loyal fans, beginning on a high with Ben and Chrissie being invited to fill the C2C spot left empty by the withdrawal from the festival of Old Dominion ( which would have given the duo the honour of being the first UK artists to play the festival’s main stage) only to be told a few days later that not only was the entire festival postponed but also that their planned in store appearances and intimate album playback events were also off the agenda.
But to help sweeten the blow, Friday saw the release of their fourth studio album ” Good Years” ( BBR Music Group/BMG) which of course the aforementioned playback events were planned around.
As with their last album, 2018’s ” Accidentally on Purpose” this new project was recorded in Nashville and produced by Lindsay Rimes, the duo co-writing ten of the twelve tracks and collaborating with established and up and coming songwriters from both sides of the Atlantic including Bob DiPiero, Jeff Cohen, Canaan Smith, Kaity Rae and Fiona Bevan. And interestingly I noticed Cam’s name on the credits of one the outside cuts. With a good mix from thought provoking ballads to uptempo, singalong crowd pleasers, some tracks leaning more towards country and others more towards pop, once again it is the duo’s beautiful harmonies which shine throughout this album and I really like how Ben and Chrissie share lead vocals more these days ….. Ben has a great voice in my opinion which was possibly underused on their earliest releases.
I’d had mixed reactions to the tracks made available pre-release ( which includes their current single ” Independence Day” , their optimistic take on a break up which is riding high on the BBC Radio 2 playlist ) so was intrigued to hear the album in its entirety. What struck me immediately and which I admit I struggled with especially on the first few play throughs is its much more expansive sound when it comes to both instrumentation and vocals compared to what we have heard from the duo in the past. Whether this is just a natural progression or aimed at making their music more enticing to the US market ( more specifically, maybe, to US country radio ) who knows, but from a personal point of view I often found the cacophony of sound a bit overwhelming and distracting initially, especially as someone who is more of a lyrics person . And I am really not a massive fan of the bro-country style background vocals or indeed the vocal effects used at times on this album ( both artists have beautiful voices, why mess with them?). Both are reasons I prefer to see The Shires live than listen to studio versions of their music, to be honest. But what I definitely loved straight away was the the inclusion of some gorgeous strings the use of trad country instruments such as banjo and mandolin on several tracks.
Putting those personal misgivings aside, there really are some beautiful writes on this collection, with several of the songs seeming more personal and reflective in nature than we have heard from the duo before. Ben and Chrissie appear to have been taking stock of life and writing about being grateful for what they have. “ On The Day I Die”, for example, Chrissie sings to her partner about how lucky she is to have found them, asking them to celebrate their life together and and not mourn her passing at the end. This is followed by the album’s title track, ” Good Years” being a reminder to make the most of every day and enjoy life while you can before it passes you by. The there’s the pop-infused ” People Like Us” with its fun message about a couple being different from others but not caring what outsiders think, they are happy together and that is all that counts. But for me it’s the album closer, ” Crazy Days “ a solo write by Ben, which is the most heartfelt, honest and personal of all. A beautiful stripped back, piano led and emotional duet which is seemingly addressed to his wife, he apologises in the first verse from being away from home so much with Chrissie singing her reply in the second verse, looking forwards to their future together, before the pair harmonise and sing about having to stay strong throughout the tougher times. It’s definitely among my favourites on this album, alongside the outside cut and very Lady Antebellum-esque ” About Last Night ” which sees Ben and then Chrissie trying to make sense of acting on an instant attraction between one other.
div>Having some sort of ode to alcohol seems to be a rite of passage for country artists ( ” Beer Never Broke My Heart ” Luke Combs and ” Five O’clock Somewhere” Alan Jackson just two of the numerous examples), The Shires are no exception it seems and in with the appropriately Celtic tinged album track ” Thank You Whiskey” , Ben extols its virtues and thanks it for always being there to help him out, starting off the song as if addressing a person in a similar vein to Brad Paisley’s ever popular ” Alcohol”.
So, to sum up my thoughts, this album has definitely been a ” grower” for me, and the more I listen the more I am enjoying it in its entirety and not just the initial tracks which I was drawn to through personal preferences. But I am still very much looking forwards to hearing this new music without all the bells and whistles production when ( hopefully in these uncertain times!) I get to catch their extensive UK tour which is due to kick off in late April.