Momentous Mondays: Influential artists of the next 5-10 years – Week 41: The Shires

Maybe I’ll just say this from the outset…I don’t know how to start off this blog, or at least I didn’t know, when I initially decided to take the plunge, and give blogs 81-100 over to my brother Josh, and I then decided to take over the blogs that he was writing, 41-50. With the possibility of that even occurring, and how my brother and I were discussing it over the last few months, I was in fact very eager to have a change, per se. Let’s just say that writing about a certain ‘type’ of artist- the more established, while my brother explored more artists that were ‘new’, took a little bit of a toll on me. Not to say that artists like Keith Urban, Lady A, John Legend, Creed, Coldplay, John Farnham, John Mayer and Goo Goo Dolls (to name a few) weren’t good, quite the contrary actually. But you know how if you’ve been doing something long enough, you’re in need of a much-deserved change? Looking back on it now, I know I did. Having said that, now that my brother has embarked on the journey that I was on this last 2 years, posting the 81st post not too long ago about Tim McGraw, here I sit about to start writing…and I don’t have much at all. Usually when I write, I just do- the words flow out, and more often than not, I stare back at the page, and I’ve already written a page in about 5 minutes. Now, the words don’t come that easily anymore. Maybe it’s because I’ve been exploring more well-known artists that I’ve felt more at ease in writing about them, than compared to the up-and-comers I’m about to explore now, but whatever it is, at this moment I’m getting a massive amount of writer’s block. You know how you take over a task from someone, and then you feel pressure (either from yourself or even from outside sources) to make the continuation of the task, as good or even better than whence you first took over? That’s how I have felt, a little, since I started to listen to The Shires, in preparation for the 41st blog of the series ‘Influential Artists of the Next 5 – 10 Years’, what my brother Josh has been embarking on, from April 2019 onward.

‘…We’ve been blogging about this particular series Momentous Mondays: Most Influential Artists Of All Time since February 2019, and now we’re 80 blogs in. We’ve dived deep into a number of popular artists and other artists that aren’t that well known, admired and respected. We’ve blogged about underrated artists and overrated artists alike, and we’ve found ourselves enamoured and captivated by certain genres over others. But now it’s time to change it all up. To take away the instruction manual and throw away the key too for good measure. For my brother Jon has always been blogging about his list of 100 influential artists- as have I about my list of 50 up and coming future music influencers. Now, it’s time to do the reverse. For the next ten blogs and maybe more, I’ll be writing about artists that have had more of an impact over time, while Jon will be diving deep into the here, the now and the future for the next little bit. While this musical experiment swap idea came from left field (it was my idea!), and was partly a way to expand our musical horizons; it’s also to get us to understand what the other person goes through when blogging. Sort of something like a ‘walk a mile in your shoes’ type of thing. And it’s a challenge as we both learn that there’s a whole lot of music out there that we do not know. And it’s ok if we don’t know it all. As long as we realise that music of all kinds out there and that one person will be blessed by a song, even if we do not connect with it in an overall sense…’

My brother wrote this above paragraph (or at least the beginning of one) when he was first starting out writing about Tim McGraw, the 81st blog post in this unique and musical-genre building exercise, and I thought, what better way than the introduce The Shires than to present what my brother wrote as well. For maybe too long since this blog series began, I’ve been comfortable where I’m at- and I’m sure my brother Josh can attest to that too. And to be honest, as my brother has been listening to music artists present on the blogging list I was a part of for 80 posts…I don’t think I can testify and say the same about listening to the previous 40 artists my brother delved into this past year and a half, because…well, I’m not really sure why. Maybe it’s because I’ve written about 80 artists, and Josh, only 40 (and thus, I’ve been posting more frequently and therefore, listening to artists on my blog-post list more frequently), but whatever the case, as much as I maybe would’ve liked to, artists like Little Mix, Demi Lovato, Lindsay Ell, Thomas Rhett, Maren Morris, Maddie & Tae, Chris Stapleton, Dua Lipa, Shawn Mendes, Lea Michele, Hailee Steinfeld, Conrad Sewell and Cassadee Pope, have all been artists that piqued my interest (at least in a few songs I’ve heard here and there), but never enough to delve deep into their discographies at large. Nevertheless, I’ve been in the know somewhat, and I’ve thoroughly commended my brother in being tasked (I’m sure he took up this blog series of his own accord!) to explore genres of music that both of us weren’t really exposed to when we were just a little younger (a little over 2 years ago, I don’t think I would’ve heard much of the artists I wrote about, and the artists Josh did, as well). And so blog #41 is The Shires, and maybe they fit into this definition of ‘Influential Artists of the Next 5 – 10 Years’, maybe they don’t (they’re a Country duo from England who’ve written and released 4 albums since embarking in the band space from 2015 onward). But what I’ve noticed regardless is this- this U.K. group provides us all with a different side of County than I may have heard (especially American country) that I’ve been exposed to, for the better part of 2020 at least.

‘…we’re a UK country act – we’ve been together five and a half years now, which is crazy! We actually met on Facebook – we were introduced to one another through a mutual friend. We started making music together in Bedfordshire/Hertfordshire and it was amazing how we were introduced. We were both doing our own thing for a while – Crissie was singing at weddings and things, and I was trying to make it in songwriting (and wasn’t!). We got together, played some shows in the local area. Very quickly we got a record deal and were out in Nashville nine months after we met. A year after that, we had our first top ten album in the main charts, which was just an absolute dream come true. Now, we’re here on our third album and it’s in the top five. We spend half our time in the UK and half of our time in Nashville – we’re having a great time. Living the dream!…’ [BEN]
‘…we’d both been working in the music industry for a long time. I’d gone on to study music at university and it was definitely what I wanted to do. The two of us both got into the genre quite differently – I’ve always been a life-long country music fan. My Grandma used to teach me Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, the old school country stuff. I always listened to Leann Rimes, Shania Twain – they were manufactured as pop over here, but I always loved their voices and the story behind their songs. Ben got into it more recently, around six and a half years ago, through a band called Lady Antebellum. He discovered them and it was almost like ‘Is this country music?’ It’s changed so much over the years; and has a lot more pop in it. It’s all about the story-telling and the voices of the songs. Both of us separately love Ronan Keating and Westlife – a lot of their songs, especially Ronan Keating, were country songs deep down…’ [CRISSIE]

I guess if you could liken the style of The Shires when it comes down to it, I would honestly not really classify it as country, at least not the country music that I know. A lot of country music that I’ve come across this past 2 years has always been American (or even Canadian) based- singing in thick accents and discussing themes like trucks, dirt roads, girls, beer (or maybe that’s just all the themes of an artist like Florida Georgia Line)…no seriously, take one listen to any country artist that is famous right now (out of the U.S.A. or Canada) and listen to The Shires, and there is a big difference, in music style, tempo, themes present in the music, and just the overall general feel of the music…and to be perfectly honest, I actually prefer The Shires and their music style ahead of a lot of the music I’ve heard recently that have been classified under the ‘country’ banner. Not to discount anything from artists like Shania Twain, Keith Urban, Little Big Town, Lady A, Sugarland, Martina McBride, Carrie Underwood or Faith Hill; but there’s something about The Shires, and their members (Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes), and their music style, that is attractive, enthralling, joyful, enjoyable, heartfelt, and the rest of it. If I were to soberly classify The Shires against the backdrop of country music (which is music originating from the U.S.), I’d say The Shires is more along the lines of folk/singer-songwriter, light acoustic pop, or even A/C (adult contemporary) rather than country. Nevertheless, whichever way you categorise The Shires, and even if you classify them in your own minds, as ‘country’ or not, the fact of the matter still remains- this is an underrated duo, and one that I would recommend to anyone who loves similar-styled folk-pop, maybe even music akin to artists like The McClymonts, The Corrs and Ronan Keating, if I’m to be honest.

I don’t really have much to go on- what I mean is that as my brother has read every single blog post I’ve done this past 2 years (from 1 to 80), the same cannot be said about me wanting to read his blogs (from 1 to 40). So, I don’t really know my brother’s writing style- I’m flying blind here. But maybe that’s the point. If I knew all the ins and outs of how my brother would’ve structured his blogs, I may have wanted to emulate him from blogs 41 – 50, but unfortunately (or maybe even fortunately), I haven’t had the pleasure of reading my brother’s blogs yet. And that’s ok. Because as I’m going into writing about The Shires…let’s just say there’s not much of an expectation. I mean, there is, but it’s mostly from myself. How I write won’t be affected to how my brother writes (because I haven’t really read them yet), and therefore, I can write with a little bit more freedom, knowing that what I write will be totally my own, never worrying about how my brother would approach this blog, and to focus a lot more on how I can write this, to the best of my ability!

Forming in 2013, The Shires is comprised of Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes, and with a snapshot of their career (as can be seen on Wikipedia), the duo’s 4 albums came in quick succession- Brave, My Universe, Accidentally On Purpose and Good Years were unveiled in 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2020 respectively. While even now they’re still relatively unknown around the world (except they’re famous in their country of origin- Britain), Ben and Crissie have nevertheless crafted a career thus far, that will only become more and more impacting in years to come, considering they are now currently signed to BMG, they’ve released a Greatest Hits compilation project in early 2020 to the American market, and are now making the active move to gain more exposure within the realms of America, with 2 collaborations with rising U.S. stars Lauren Alaina and Jimmie Allen (on re-recordings of the songs ‘Lightning Strikes’ and ‘On the Day I Die’ respectively, both of which are originally from their fourth album Good Years). All of the logistical ways of being more marketable in the U.S. aside; Ben and Crissie have still maintained their fresh approach of how to do country music- listening to The Shires has been a breath of fresh air. Yes, there are still songs which have trademark banjos and mandolins, but by and large, music from Britain, in any genre (let alone country music) has always seemed to intrigue and excite me on some core level, compared to a lot of music originating from U.S.A. Not to say that any music from either one of the 50 states is automatically inferior to British counterparts, not at all. But as we look to see which artists have made waves, that were from the U.K. (and to a larger extent, Europe in general!), artists like Ronan Keating, ABBA, U2, Elton John, Phil Collins, Eric Clapton, Dua Lipa, One Direction, Little Mix, Jess Glynne, George Michael, The Beatles, Leona Lewis, Sting, Dido, Ed Sheeran, Delirious?, Adele, The Corrs, Coldplay and SEAL (to name a few, of so much more artists) have reminded us, that European artists in general, has made an impact, imprint and influence on music, society and culture over modern music history. In a broader sense, there’s a general feeling we can all get, that there’s something unique and special about artists from Europe, from the U.K. especially. I guess, add The Shires to that list of artists who continue to press and challenge us all into expectations of what music can and should be, in the band’s case, expectations of country music, a primarily U.S. music genre, and how this duo, from England, have managed to make country music their own: all the while delivering earnest lyrics about life, but never wavering on their roots and hometown (a country song from their debut album Brave titled ‘Made in England’ is an example of this thought).

If I’m to be completely honest, the first time I heard of The Shires was in preparation for this blog post not too long ago. I was thinking about which artists I was to explore, and which artists to write about in relation to artists that are to be impactful and influential both now and into the future- I saw the band’s video of ‘Lightning Strikes’, featuring Lauren Alania, on Youtube, and then, well, I guess the rest was history, right? Let’s just say that listening to this duo was purely by accident, and with hindsight, was a good accident, too. And while after some exploration, I found out that this duo had 4 albums already under their belt, and was about to grow in the American market, I still hadn’t really heard of them (I heard of the name ‘The Shires’ and knew there was a band called that, but that was about it!). And herein lies the point- you can be great at what you do, and be popular amongst where you are placed at the moment, but still be relatively unknown in the grand scheme of things, and because country music in and of itself is very much American-based, to be a British duo specialising in country music…well, let’s just say that in order to excel, you have to bring something different and unique to the table, otherwise the radio will just look the other way, and still continue to play artists like Keith Urban, Shania Twain, Rascal Flatts, Sugarland, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw on the airwaves, all for the umpteenth time, right?

Brave was the first album The Shires released in 2015, and just one listen straight through, you can tell that this duo has something special, even if you didn’t know from the outset that Ben and Crissie are British. In fact, upon first listen to the band, you probably wouldn’t even guess their nationality, which is a great way to introduce someone to the band- under the guise of not even outright saying that they are British, and then explaining to your friend later, that ‘guess what, this band that you’ve been enjoying that you think are American, well, they’re not!’. That is what I reckon the band has going for them- they can sing the songs so well, that you can almost think they are from one of the 50 states, but then you have a song like ‘Made in England’ on the first album, and I guess the gig is up, then. Regardless, Brave is a great way to start being introduced to this unique and poignant duo, and as we hear the expanded edition of the album, there’s a few songs that stand out straightaway- first one being ‘Made in England’, an ode to the duo’s country of origin, a song with light acoustics, and emotive lyrics of how ‘…I’m made in England and I’m proud to be from this little island, it’s more than home to me…nowhere I’d rather be, rainy days and milk in my tea, is good enough for me…’

‘Nashville Grey Skies’ is another song that stood out on this album, and is a song about trying to bring country music from Nashville in the States, over to the U.K. (or anywhere else that isn’t the USA), and is a reminder that country music and its impact can still exist outside of the 50 states. Country music in the U.K. can seem a bit weird at first, but The Shires make it work, surprisingly. The Shires also encourage us all with ‘Brave’ the title track, an up-tempo anthem about laying down our guards and not having the pressure to constantly be brave- for ourselves and for the people around us. It is ok for us to admit that we don’t have things as all together as we can often seem as though we want to picture it as. ‘Friday Night’ is the little ol’ ‘let’s have a party on a Friday night’ song on the album- a country version of one of those party songs you hear at clubs and pubs all the time, while ‘Tonight’ speaks about the joys of young love, and acknowledging the sparks that happen between people here in the moment, that for a moment in people’s lives, nothing needs to be declared except for the fact that ‘…we don’t need anything at all, tonight you’re mine, and I’m yours…’ ‘I Just Wanna Love You’, a piano-only ballad, is the most-streamed song by the band on Spotify, and hearing the song, it’s no wonder why- ‘I Just Wanna Love You’ is a poignant song about unadulterated and unashamed love between two people, a back-and-forth conversation between two personas unveiling their feelings to each other, a perfect song for weddings both now and into the future.

The band also delve deep into American-country-esque banjo influenced ‘All Over Again’, a track about falling in love with someone over and over again, a reminder that the longer you spend with someone and being in relationship with them, they’ll always be something unique and new about the person that you’ll discover and love, thereby the statement of falling in love with someone ‘all over again’ seems fitting and true of this song, while ‘State Lines’, another powerful emotive ballad on Brave, brings this metaphor about crossing physical state lines and travelling to new states and territories across a country, and comparing it to exploring new things about a significant other- an odd metaphor in general, but this song works. ‘Black and White’ explores this notion of real love, and what it is and isn’t, and how real love is indeed black and white- no compromise and loving unconditionally the other person, while the band also joyously delivers ‘Only Midnight’, a track about young and bubbly infatuation (or is it the beginnings of love?), as both Ben and Crissie yearn for the other to ‘…call you up and hear you say, baby, it’s alright, it’s only midnight…’, and even present a cover of the Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers song, ‘Islands in the Stream’- an iconic country song if ever there was one. Originally written by The Bee Gees, the song is very much synonymous with both Dolly and Kenny Rogers, and is as iconic, as the country genre itself, so for The Shires to cover ‘Islands in the Stream’…well, it’s a big deal. Done acoustically, this version of the song, admittedly is a little slow for my liking. Regardless, both Ben and Crissie technically knock this cover song out of the park, as hopefully listeners of this track can gain this understanding, that songs of yesteryear can still be as impactful now, that a reimagining can bring in a better appreciation of iconic songs, and a love for timeless classics like ‘Islands in the Stream’…who knows, maybe the band can create a full album of classic country-song covers in the future?

The Shires unveiled to us their second album My Universe in 2016, just a year after Brave, and while for me I felt like their first album was much more cohesive and poignant than their second, the band still present emotive and powerful tracks in their second album, even though I reckon the quick turn-around between the albums led to me enjoying Brave a bit more. Title track ‘My Universe’ hits the hardest when viewed as a music video- the video raises awareness of the dangers of texting and driving, with the video having a very dark turn towards the end, showcasing the real dangers of something that unfortunately, a lot of people undertake- the song takes on the meaning of the video, or it can mean something else entirely to the listener. Whatever the case, ‘My Universe’ the song encourages us to ask the question- who is the person who is ‘my universe’ to us? We only get one life, as the song relays, and thus, we need to live life having that sobering knowledge at the back of our minds. ‘Beats To Your Rhythm’ is the first radio single from My Universe, and this upbeat acoustically driven anthem implies a heartbeat-to-heartbeat connection between two significant others, as the song showcases this understanding that love connects us all on a soul level; while ‘Not Even Drunk Right Now’, seemingly fitting to be ‘Friday Night’ Part 2, is a happy-go-lucky song about feeling as though we’re drunk, without even being drunk at all- the feeling thereby comes from being around a loved one or a person that gets us to that state of euphoria that drinking can get you to. Songs like ‘Naked’, ‘Save Me’ and ‘Desperate’ are songs that explore the vulnerability of The Shires, and all depict unconditional love- a moment of us realising that the love between two people expressed in these songs, is just a glimpse of what I firmly believe God has for His creation, you and I included.

‘Drive’ has a bit of a carefree element to it, a sort-of exploration vibe, as the band invite us into this track about exploring the unknown- using the metaphor of driving down a freeway road, to present the best of exploring new things about a new person or a situation, while ‘Common Language’ explores the unique bond people have when they’re in love, and how a language can be between two people in a way that is unique to the two of them- through verbal ways and non-verbal ones as well. ‘A Thousand Hallelujahs’, quite possibly the most country-esque song I’ve heard from the band (with a lot of banjos and mandolins, something akin to what Keith Urban would create), blurs the lines of country music and religious-themed music, as this powerful term of ‘hallelujah’ is repetitiously used and the song reminding us that often the love that you can feel for your significant other, can sometimes feel like a religious experience to some, even if the people involved in the relationship aren’t ‘religious’ themselves. And that seems to be fair though- for if my beliefs are true, that we are made in God’s image, then what we feel for another person, is just a mirror and an echo of what God feels for the church, and what God feels for humanity in general. Our love for each other is just a glimpse of what I firmly believe, is God’s love for creation, and what better way to express that, than to declare ‘hallelujah’?

‘Other People’s Things’ is a piano ballad with the heartfelt lyrics that explores this notion of how objects in our lives mean different things to different people- they can be sentimental to you, and impact people in your circle, but will mean nothing to random people; while I believe the standout on the album (yes, even more of a standout than ‘My Universe’, which in and of itself is a pretty good track!) is the song ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’. The song, written by Crissie about her father that passed away when she was a young girl, brings us listeners into this world of someone who lost their father when they were young, as we’re thankful ourselves for the fathers we have in our lives. Crissie wrote this song about the innocence of love, affection and a relationship between a father and a daughter as a child, and it is in this vulnerability, that we can see how a song such poignant and emotionally difficult to even write, record and sing, has been a song that is very much a standout, not only on My Universe, but a standout throughout the band’s career thus far. As Crissie herself imparts, ‘…I was only eight at the time, but it’s never been something we speak about too much. Then it just so happened that I went into a session in Nashville and wrote this song. Every word of it is just completely honest. It’s good to get feelings out – but it makes you think a lot more. So to have that song and open up more about that situation has been really quite tough on me. I just really hope that other people can relate to it…’

Accidentally On Purpose arrived digitally in 2018, and for me, has been a standout alongside 2015’s Brave as two of their most enjoyable albums to date. While the 2015 release Brave had a sense of raw honesty and unfiltered sense of joy and exuberating glee, this third album by this duo has a nice blend of country and pop, and a great album in general if you want to explore the pop market, while still holding onto your country roots. While there are a few pop songs through and through (that some country purists would skip straight away when listening to this album from start to finish- ‘Echo’ and ‘Guilty’), the album as a whole, blends together electric guitars and the band’s trademark country ballad sound quite well, delivering numerous standout songs in the process. ‘The Hard Way’ is track #1 on the album, and starts off this set of 12 songs with such a poignant fashion, as both Ben and Crissie deliver this message about learning things the hard way in life- that while it’s not ideal for us to learn about ourselves and other people through the difficult times and trying moments we experience, we often are given hindsight as the perfect teacher, which is this- that through the trying times, we come out the other side, with a renewed and realigned perspective, and as the song suggests in the emotive chorus, ‘…you’re only gonna know what you’ve got when you know it’s not comin’ back, you’re only gonna know what to say when it’s too little, too late…’ I know, crude hard facts, but to be perfectly honest, at least people can learn things the hard way, instead of not even learning at all. Yes, pain may be involved, but once you learn something the hard way, what you’ve learnt in your life can often stick a little more- because you would’ve attached a life that you don’t want to go down, towards your learning experience. Yes things can be learnt the easy way, but is it really so bad if you learn things the hard way as well? ‘Echo’ and ‘Guilty’ are the two pop representatives on the album, and with looping percussion, effects, and a easy-to-remember beat, both these songs deliver messages of carefree joy and reckless abandon as ‘Echo’ presents the message to be us ‘shaking’ the town, ‘making so much noise’, basically doing what we do with enthusiasm, passion and excellence, and people will recognise us for the talents that we have, and that if people hate us along the way…then I guess it’s part and parcel with delivering a heartfelt message with the life you lead, right? ‘Guilty’ is a song about having a good time, and…that’s about it? No seriously, this song is indeed a breath of fresh air, because it’s a song for all the naysayer and doubters, people who say that to travel through life with purpose, intentionality, and heartfelt intentions, you need to sweep ‘fun’ under the rug, and just not have fun in life. It’s for the Ebenezer Scrooge’s out there, a song that encourages us to enjoy life and have fun, because, well, if you’re not gonna enjoy it, you’re gonna wake up when you’re 50 with a whole lotta regrets! And ‘Guilty’ can hopefully encourage some of that legalistic spirit to just fall away, and for enjoyment to come take its place!

Throughout the rest of the album, the band continue to present songs of joy and hope, of love, loss, and hopeful reconnecting, as this album cohesively explores love, life, and other mysteries in what I reckon is one of the decades (yes, all throughout the 2010s) most intriguing and enjoyable country albums I’ve heard in full, from any country artist (or band), in any country. Yes, such a bold statement, but let’s just say that this duo delivers a different side of country that we may not have heard before, in quite some time? ‘Sleepwalk’ is a song about a love so eternal that two souls can be connected through their sleep- they can be alone apart, but together united when they dream at night, while ‘Accidentally on Purpose’, the title track of the album, presents to us all, a relatable song about how someone would feel when they are in young love, or just in love in general, and feeling as though you are crazy about the other person, and that embarking on something new, is exciting and anticipated. And yet you try to rationalise the things you do when you undertake things for the other person- you make excuses when you do things out of love, when in reality, things you choose to do for the other person aren’t as ‘accidental’ as you would often allow people to believe. ‘Ahead of the Storm’ starts off with a light acoustic pick, something that John Mayer would embark on to create a song. The track harkens to the genre of acoustic/folk/singer-songwriter- ‘Ahead of the Storm’ speaks about trying to stay ahead of the ‘storm’, to have all of your ‘ducks’ in a row, being prepared when difficulties arise in life, and trying to be as prepared as we can be for when the proverbial storms start to rise around us, while  ‘Speechless’ is a piano-driven melodic song about speaking less and appreciating the other person in said relationship more, and understanding that sometimes it is the unsaid things, and the actions in your relationship that speak more volumes than the actual words that we speak. ‘Strangers’ is a powerful love song that challenges the archetype of being married for a long time- this song suggests that there should be times during your life (if you’re married) to go on date nights with your spouse and essentially be ‘strangers’ for the night- to explore new and untapped things about each other that maybe you wouldn’t have known, or just reignite the excitement, spark and fire that occurred when you met your spouse for the first time, for real. To long for the relationship not to become stale, or for you not to just become ‘used’ to your spouse, is something that requires boldness and guts to admit, especially if you want to cultivate a healthy marriage that lasts longer than the average most. ‘World Without You’, a song that could’ve been a single (it had all of the elements to be a single, engaging hook, a melodic anthemic moment that evokes emotion and heartfelt message of not taking things for granted), is a personal standout of mine, as I’m able to see how this song can be viewed as us singing to God, declaring that we wouldn’t be where we are, or even who we are, without Him. I’m reminded full well through this track, of how lost and empty people can seem, without the ultimate realisation of a Saviour that came in the midst of my very own sinfulness, and paid the price of death, the grave, and taking on our sin to allow us to have reconciliation with God Himself.

And then there’s ‘Stay the Night’, quite possibly the song to listen to from the album, if I were to pick one. And it’s not even written by the band themselves. The track, about finding your special someone and allowing them to heal you so that you can understand that when you find your significant other, you understand that this clichéd term of ‘two souls becoming one’ is actually true; ‘Stay the Night’ is as poignant and emotional, as it is confronting, allowing me to hopefully be challenged to find my own person out there for me, but then understanding that even if I don’t, I can still be resting, knowing my identity is in another person, but in knowing that I am loved unconditionally by my family, friends and God Himself, regardless of whether I have someone or not. With the song written by none other than Ed Sheeran, the band have recorded their standout song on Accidentally on Purpose and a starting point for anyone who haven’t heard of the band, to start with this song in checking them out…in fact, maybe just check out this whole album in full, if you haven’t heard of the band? This album as a whole embodies and epitomises everything that The Shires are about!

‘…I actually see him [Ed Sheeran] as quite country. The way he writes his songs have country in them, and he obviously puts a pop twist in there too. He writes very visually, it’s conversational and that is definitely a Nashville thing. He’s spent a good amount of time out there, because he loves writing country songs and working with the artists out there. We were actually out in Nashville writing and our good friend Sam Palladio from the show Nashville bumped into Ed at a gig the night before and Ed said he had a show the next day and asked if he wanted to come along. Sam called us and asked if we wanted to go and see Ed Sheeran, so we went down there to watch his show (which was incredible). We then found out it was his penultimate show in America and that he was having a big party backstage. Somehow, we ended up getting into that as well! It was typical Nashville vibes, alcohol flowing, there was a live band and it was so much fun. We said “Hi’ to Ed and he already knew who we were which was so cool! He pre-ordered our last album and said he particularly liked a song called Other People’s Things. After the party we reached out to him to see if he wanted to write with us – he sent us a few tracks and Stay The Night just stood out to us. We couldn’t wait to get into the studio and record it…’

Your heart is like an ocean, I wanna dive into you
Your love is like a river that I’m swimming through
Somehow I found someone who truly loves me for all of my flaws
If you can call when I am down, then I am yours
So darling do you want me? Need me? Stay the night, stay the night
I just want you near me, believe me, Stay the night, stay the night
And all of these roads I’ve walked down led to you
So darling, take it easy, lay with me, Stay the night, stay the night

Excerpt lyrics from ‘Stay the Night’, from the album Accidentally on Purpose

‘Lightning Strikes’ was the first song (with Lauren Alaina) that I heard from The Shires, and so, I guess that song has a special place in my own heart in my own journey into the preconceived ideas I had about country music in general, and how those stereotypes I had about the genre itself, blew wide open when hearing this unique band, The Shires. For I’ve realised that there’s always something to learn, relearn, unlearn, realign, there’s always something to learn afresh and understand that the goal in life is not to always have things altogether, but to acknowledge that exciting fact- to discover something new about music (or any other topic for that matter) is a gift. I’ve learnt that much in my own musical journey over the last 2 years or so. And The Shires has made a big impact in my own musical journey throughout the last couple of months or so. Going into this, with hearing virtually nothing about the band (except knowing the fact that there was a band called The Shires out there and that was it), I took a proverbial leap (as I’ve done with listening to a lot of other artists previously), and more often than not, these explorations into artists and genres I may not have explored (had it not been for said artists in my blog series list), have paid off. Add The Shires to such a list, and one of my own favourite duos I’ve heard in quite some time, up there with others like Sugarland, Maddie & Tae, and of course one of my favourite all-time bands ever, for KING & COUNTRY.

ABOUT THE SHIFT BETWEEN THE FIRST THREE ALBUMS, AND GOOD YEARS: ‘…for the first three albums, we were so relentlessly in a constant ‘go-go-go!’ kind of mode. We were always here, there, and everywhere, and it was hard to grab a moment and appreciate everything we’d done. We actually left our record label that we’d been with for the first three albums; and sat in limbo for a little moment without a label, before signing with CMG. We had a bit of time away from the craziness, and we got to spend time with family and friends; and get some normality in our lives. The songs are generally quite reflective, showing how we’ve been feeling appreciative of where we are in our working lives and home lives…it wasn’t a conscious effort at the time [for Accidentally On Purpose to crossover into other genres and sounds]. We were partying quite a lot in Nashville, and that was reflected in the songs we were writing for Accidentally On Purpose. We were influenced by the music scene there, and we were still trying to break America, so we thought going on the poppier side would cross us over. And it helped with the live performances, because the songs have so much energy and fun…[but] as long as you can release something you’re proud of and 100% happy with, that’s the main thing. It’s always going to be open to opinions – I remember having a chat with a fan when we’d just released Accidentally On Purpose, and he mentioned about us going Pop, and he wasn’t pleased. But sometimes you have to broaden the genre to give other people a taste as to what Country is all about…’

Good Years was unfolded and unveiled to us during March 2020, and just when everyone was about to be locked down because of COVID-19 (and right now currently, countries around the world are still in varying degrees of lockdown), The Shires released an album- not really great timing when it comes to actually promoting it, but in terms of the content, and what the songs from this band are genuinely and generally about, this new album Good Years couldn’t’ve come at a better time. While this duo may not make the same heights as other country music duos that have flourished in America (Florida Georgia Line, Maddie & Tae, and Dan + Shay), both Crissie and Ben have nevertheless carved a creative outlet of expression within these 12 tracks, songs that can be the soundtrack of people’s lives, especially during this season of uncertainty which is COVID-19. ‘Lightning Strikes’, the first song on Good Years, has gained traction and interest because of Lauren Alania’s involvement in the rerecording, with the song itself being a playful analysis as to why people have relationship problems- is it something inherently wrong with people in general, or is it some cruel cosmic joke. But yet the saying goes ‘Lightning never strikes the same place twice’, which isn’t really true, because the reassurance that this saying should normally give, that whatever bad thing has happened in life, doesn’t seem to happen twice; is a little bit misleading. In life, calamity and chaos can often strike as many times as it frequently happens, and ‘Lightning Strikes’ tries to make the topic of discussion (difficulties happening in life), light and more palatable as we hear such a theme that people want to sweep under the rug…for the longest time yet. ‘On the Day I Die’ is another emotive song on Good Years– poignant and heartfelt, and though it may not necessarily be a go-to song for people during this period of time which is COVID-19, I nevertheless commend the band for grappling about death and speaking about such a sensitive issue in an album like this. Yes, the topic of death can often sting and people don’t want to be open to even discuss about it, but the song lays everything out for us to see- in the track, the persona declares what they want to happen to the world around them when they die. To never be sad, but to honour a live once lived to abundance and to the full. To celebrate someone’s contribution to the relationships they’ve had with people around them, and to appreciate someone’s personality and impact they have had on others, even after they have gone. This song is about appreciating the moments we have, because we never really know when time runs out. If we’re given the ‘full’ 100 years of life, or if our lives are cut short for whatever reason, we have to live knowing full well that we’ve given it our all, loving people and being as gracious and empathetic as possible. The collaboration The Shires have had with up-and-coming American artist Jimmie Allen on this track, is a unique one- Jimmie isn’t as well-known as Lauren- nevertheless, fans of country music in America would know of Jimmie Allen, and his collab with The Shires can bring exposure to not only Ben & Crissie, but Jimmie himself.

THE SHIRES & JIMMIE ALLEN DISCUSS ‘ON THE DAY I DIE’:

Ben Earle: We’ve recorded a track together with Jimmie Allen. You’re featured on a song of ours. We absolutely love it. Thank you so much. It’s ‘On The Day I Die’. It came about through the pandemic, really, I guess. But what was your feeling when you sort of… Talk us through when you heard the song and how you felt about doing it?
Jimmie Allen: When I got the call about getting on it, I was like, “Hell, yeah. I’m down. Let’s make that happen!” I’ve never been a part of a song like that so it was super cool. That song definitely evokes emotion for sure.
Crissie Rhodes: I love that we jumped on the call together and arranged the music video as well. We spoke about it and our thoughts about it and I loved that we both had the same sort of idea of having this couple looking upon their life from being youngsters to growing old together. And that kind of summed up that whole song.
Jimmie Allen: That visual just about life, because we all grow up. We’re all going to get old one day and at some point we’re all going to die and we don’t know when that is. That’s why I just look at life and try and find ways to make the best out of each moment because you don’t know when it’s your last. Because you never know. People put off stuff all the time and they never make it to that day.
Ben Earle: Yeah, no, definitely. Definitely. And you know what? We love the song already, but genuinely, that energy, that what you’re talking about right now, I feel like you brought that to the song. I’m not just saying it. I really feel this and it took it to a whole other level and I just want to thank you, I’m sure Chrissy does as well, for singing on it because it breathed life into a song.

The album continues to progress and give to us powerful themes of living life to the full and to appreciate the good years as they come. Title track ‘Good Years’ employs the keyboard and electronically-driven string instruments to deliver a song about appreciative life as it happens, to enjoy the good years (and also in some way, recognise the necessity of the bad as well) and appreciate little things in life, because time flies by so fast that you can just coast by in life, without any semblance of enjoying it at all, while ‘No Secrets’ hammers into us, this idea of vulnerability, that in any relationship, be it romantic, friendship or even between the family, honesty and vulnerability are the key for it to be as healthy as possible. The song is specifically about couples, and how they ought to have no secrets with each other in order for their relationship to be healthy, this song can also extend to any other familial relationship we have- not having secrets, and being honest, is certainly a great way to base the relationship on. ‘About Last Night’, a radio single from the band, speaks about a persona (and someone they have been crushing on for years) and their altering relationship after something pivotal that happened in a night, that changed the trajectory of their relationship altogether. Whether the song alludes to sex and the aftermath of that, or even if it is really about confessing pent-up feelings to one another and the talk that comes afterward, ‘About Last Night’ presents this theme that we all have to embrace at one point or another- change occurs in life, and in terms of relationships, if we’re feeling something for someone, then maybe we can just go out and say it? Wisdom needs to be exercised in any circumstance and what happens will have consequences, but ‘About Last Night’ challenges us all to make steps to change trajectories of certain relationships in our lives, if we want them to change.

‘New Year’ takes a look at bringing into the new year, different relationships, and longing for things to change in years to come, as with a change into the new year, comes rebirth, realignment and refocus, and hopefully some resolutions that can be finally acted out for an extended period of time; whilst ‘Only Always’ examines the immediate loss about a relationship, and how hard it can be to ‘get over’ someone- the song presses on the question ‘do you ever think about be always’ and challenges us all to admit that at one point or another, people think about their exes much more than they even care to admit. ‘Independence Day’, an ironically titled song (considering the fact that Independence Day is a term used by Americans about their ‘freedom’ day on July 4th, and The Shires are a British band), is a song about heartbreak and moving forward, as the persona is singing to a person they know that is down, emotionally and mentally, and thus the song is a form of encouragement, reminding the other, that their personal independence day is coming, when they can be free of whatever relationship they had that was holding them back from their potential, or even be free from toxicity and relationships that seem good in the moment, but upon reflection, were relationships that were one sided. ‘People Like Us’ celebrates the oddity of relationships, and how ‘people like us’, is meant to be a complemental term, that our uniqueness and difference in _____ need not to be dismissed; but celebrated. ‘Better Place’ encourages us to place relationships front and centre, and that to leave the world in a better place, we ought to love people as we know we have been (and we are) loved. But the album ender ‘Crazy Days’ is for me, one of the standouts on Good Years (alongside the first two tracks) as this emotional ballad presents a piano-string melody about acknowledging that sometimes, crazy days are a part of life, and that to say that out loud, can give more enjoyability to the better days, and more perspective on the crazy ones. The song is very much fitting in a world of uncertainty and COVID-19- I’m not sure if the song was written with the coronavirus in mind or not. Nevertheless, to understand that we’re gonna have crazy days in life, where nothing may go our way, is why we need people with us and for us, by us and championing for us, for when the craziness comes. Written by Ben and Crissie, and really about the craziness that comes with touring life, and releasing three albums in four years (Brave in 2015, My Universe in 2016 and Accidentally on Purpose in 2018), Crissie reminds us of the process of writing this thought-provoking song, and how ‘…we had such a crazy time releasing three albums back to back. We had a bit of time, it was about a year, where it was a little quieter. Still gigging and recording and writing, but we were away from the craziness. We got some time with our friends and family and it made us quite reflective really, appreciative of all the times we’ve been through together and how our families have evolved in that time with Ben having two little kiddies…’

The Shires have delivered their four albums with grace and poise, with enthusiasm and poignancy, as we see this duo bring the country of Britain to their music, and in songs like ‘Made In England’, we realise that this duo (that from first listen, we can automatically assume that they’re from America!) is bringing country to places that may not necessarily would’ve embraced the genre with fervency as people in the U.S. Utilising influences like Shania Twain, Ronan Keating, Leann Rimes and Westlife (and to me, sounding sonically and musically similar to The Corrs and The McClymonts), this duo from across the pond, has given me more of an appreciation to country music outside the U.S.- and with The Shires alongside other non-US country artists (inclusive of Aussies like Keith Urban, Colin Buchannan, Caitlyn Shadbolt, Slim Dusty, Kasey Chambers, Shannon Noll, Lee Kernaghan, John Williamson, Morgan Evans, Amber Lawrence, Missy Lancaster and Jasmine Rae, U.K. country artists like Catherine McGrath, Twinnie-Lee Moore, Lucie Silvas, Ward Thomas, Una Healy and Sam Palladio, and Canadians like Shania Twain, Lindsay Ell, Tenille Arts, Tenille Townes, Terri Clark and Jess Moskaluke), we are reminded full well that country music can fully exist outside of the U.S., and exist well! The Shires are great evidence of this. Yes, they have had all their four albums chart #1 on the UK Country Charts, while having their albums within the top 10 on the UK Official Charts, and yes, they’ve toured with Little Big Town on their 2015 Pain Killer Tour, with The Corrs on their White Light Tour, with Shania Twain on her NOW Tour and with Carrie Underwood on the European leg of her Cry Pretty Tour 360, but if I didn’t really know The Shires until this year, even with all their accolades they’ve received throughout these years…then I guess they are definitely deserving of being on this blog-post list, of being an ‘Influential Artist of the Next 5 – 10 Years’- because that’s what Ben and Crissie are, right? Being as impactful and influential in the U.K., even with the average person in the world not really knowing who they are (other than people in Britain)?

As they’re starting to delve into the American country market now, with their partnership with BMG with release of Good Years, Ben and Crissie have reminded us that don’t always have to be impactful in the U.S. to be impactful and influential, full-stop. And that’s the thing about The Shires– not as ‘current’ and ‘fresh’ as duos like Dan + Shay, Florida Georgia Line or even the impactful Maddie and Tae (of which we wrote a blog about, here), but herein lies the point. To determine who get into a list (any list, let alone this list about artists who are impactful now and into the future) and who is left out is hard, difficult even, and downright someone’s own opinion. That’s what I’ve always said when I’ve been writing this blog post series. It’s ok of you disagree with me if you don’t believe The Shires are ‘deserving’ of this list. There’s always going to be artists who miss out. But for me, The Shires are a great reminder that country music across the seas separating North America from the rest of the world, still exist. Sure, there’s country music in Australia, but for me, I’ve always known that. For me to discover that there’s a world of country music in Britain is something unique, and discovering new things, however they blow your mind, should be accepted, and appreciated, should be explored all the more, and discussed. And if me discussing about The Shires allows someone to widen their appreciation of music that is not currently in their own proverbial ‘box’, then I reckon the band have done a good job with their discography. This is the first time writing about a ‘modern’ artist (after writing blog posts about more established artists people know about, from blog #1 to #80), so for me, this is a new thing. Nevertheless, this blogging experience has been a blessing in my own life in ways that people wouldn’t have guessed, and The Shires is just one piece of a puzzle which is called ‘music’- not mainstream or Christian or anything else in between. Just music. Because if God can create something as beautiful and heartfelt as the music we listen to, then He can use whatever, whomever, and whichever music, to bring people closer to Himself, and to challenge us all to enjoy music for what it is- a window into the soul, a way of expressing things that maybe, real life conversations and sermons cannot!

‘…I think that touring is still the best way to listen to music. You can never ever replicate that kind of feeling and it’s funny whenever you see people holding up their iPhones or their iPads. I have watched those videos back and thought ‘why’. You can’t capture that feeling of being at a live show. We all know that record sales have been on the decline for many years now, but live sales have been going up and up. That is because attending a live gig is just so much fun. I sometimes feel a little guilty because I wish that the audiences at our shows could feel what we feel on stage. Whenever we sing a song such as How Many Love Songs and we can see two thousand people with their hands up in the air singing the song back to us, it simply is the greatest feeling. We just wish that everyone could really feel that…’

‘…we [Ben & I] were just super excited to meet another person that liked country music, and we both had the same vision of wanting to be in this duo and singing country music together. We were completely on the same page and everything just fell into place from there… we’re kind of in our own lane in country music [at the moment]. We’re played on national radio and it goes out to people all over the country and all over the world too. The country scene has been growing and growing here. To watch it take off has been pretty incredible. From what we hear from a lot of the songwriters and the artists in Nashville, they say that they love what we’re doing, and they would love to hear us on American radio. We feel like hopefully this is our time now. We moved record labels recently. We’re now with Broken Bow and BMG in Nashville, and so this is our shot. We really feel like we’ve been working at it for a long time over here…’

Does The Shires make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Influential Artists of the next 5-10 years’ list? Is there any song, like ‘My Universe’, ‘On the Day I Die’, ‘The Hard Way’, ‘Brave’ and ‘I Just Wanna Love You’, that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!

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