11 March 2022 (released)
13 March 2022
Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes could not have timed their emergence better seven years ago. The Shires arrived at a time when country music was about to make the step from the stereotypical barn and line dances to the UK's stadium arenas. The reality was that the Nashville 'country' machine had already made this move with the likes of Garth Brooks twenty years before, but the UK public was a bit slow to follow. Now the C2C festival sells out every year (pandemic permitting) and there are several country music only radio stations.
Early on The Shires had to adapt to a rapid rise that meant their music and personalities were left a little in the wake of their fame. For example, as they moved to bigger UK venues their stage presence was, if anything, twee. But with this, their fifth album, the growing up they have done musically is fully evident. Much of the best middle-of-the-road radio friendly music comes from this genre and 10 Year Plan is a polished piece of country-pop to rival some of the best. With that loss of innocence comes the smell of Nashville sheen though. The songwriting capital of country music is known for its ruthless approach to hit-making but that doesn't mean great songs do not emerge. It just means the process feels less organic.
However the songs grow though, it's the final result that matters. Here there are the pre-requisite references to bars and broken hearts (no noticeable trucks and women in jean shorts though). On lead single I See Stars, The Shires are at their best, weaving their perfectly matched vocals around an elevating song that uses the night sky as a metaphor for someone finding that one fish in the sea (another metaphor!). Wild Hearts is the standout track, channelling the best of Carrie Underwood, in a rollicking piece of twangy pop. It's here, and on tracks like the classy Forever Tonight, that you can hear the change of gear to confident and assured from 2015's delicate and quaint debut. The gentle ballads Plot Twist and Sky Dive offer a break from the power-pop, with the latter still punching weight with a soaring sing-along chorus.
Five albums in and The Shires have found their sound, and in doing so, are holding the torch aloft for British country musicians against the endless tide of US artists who have this music in their DNA.