You’re forgiven for not hearing from The Shires. Yes, the Hertfordshire duo might have been the first British country musician to reach a Top 10 album – but the UK country scene is small. And those in it, even the top dogs, stay outside the mainstream. On their fifth album, Crissie Rhodes and Ben Earle seek to bring the singsong melodies and apple pie values of the genre to new audiences.
10 year plan is smooth sailing. Unobtrusive, radio-friendly country pop without bite. Even “Sparks Fly,” a track about heated political debates at family dinners, devolves into muddy sentiments extolling the virtue of disagreeing. While there’s something to be said for putting out a defiantly happy record right now, this album sadly doesn’t say it. Throughout the album, one waits for The Shires to pull the ripcord with a foot-stomping chorus that never arrives.
When a banjo twang kicks off “10 Year Plan,” it’s a welcome return to Country 101. There’s that southern flair. And those all-too-literal lyrics are rendered in a catchy, disjointed enumeration: “I’ll climb the Rockies / Maybe fly a plane / Buy a boat.” Pure, nonsensical joy. The song leans towards formula, but The Shires sell it with infectious power and sting.
Rhodes and Earle’s voices feel powerful – athletic but untried, like atrophied muscles rolling down the same racetrack over and over again. While fellow country duo Robert Plant and Alison Krauss often pit their vocals against each other, Earle and Rhodes are all about symmetry. Across 13 tracks there are no unexpected flourishes or surprises. It is melodically indistinct and uninteresting. Everything is where it should be. That’s the problem.
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/reviews/the-shires-review-10-year-plan-b2032974.html The Shires Review, 10 Year Plan: Britain’s biggest country act is predictably upholding apple pie values