BMG Rights Management
Release Date: March 11th 2022
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Cut Me Loose
- Sparks Fly
- Side By Side
- Plot Twist
- 10 Year Plan
- I See Stars
- A Bar Without You
- Baby We’re Rich
- Sky Dive
- Wild Hearts
- Forever Tonight
- Peggy I’m Sorry (Demo)
- When It Hurts
‘…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…’ Taken from my blog post that I wrote about The Shires way back in July 2021 as part of my blog series of new and up-and-coming artists who are to be impactful in the upcoming years ahead; The Shires took me by surprise, musically, sonically, even thematically, when I started checking out their music last year. As I wrote in the above quote, I knew there was country music in Australia and America, but to think of country music coming out of England? Well, in my mind last year, that was unheard of. Ironically though, The Shires and their music are fast becoming one of my favourite country acts, ever. Shows you what can happen with one step out into the unknown, right? The Shires have been releasing a steady string of album releases ever since their debut album Brave back in 2015, and with the albums that followed (My Universe in 2016, Accidentally on Purpose in 2018 and Good Years in 2020), we see a duo carve out an identity that makes us all at least a little curious about country music in the U.K. Here’s the fact- The Shires are currently the reigning country act in the U.K…thus they must be doing something right, right? Ben Earle and Chrissy Rhodes have made something unique and enjoyable, and a must-listen if you’ve appreciated country music (or even country-adjacent music) from artists like Lady A, Ronan Keating, Tenille Arts, Kelsea Ballerini, Carly Pearce, Maddie & Tae, and Lindsay Ell, to name a few. 10 Year Plan released in March 2022, and as far as country music goes this year, has become one of the standouts of 2022 thus far.
‘I See Stars’ and ‘Wild Hearts’ are the pre-release promotional single tracks released prior to the album releasing, and while with hindsight I think a song like ‘Sparks Fly’ or ‘Side By Side’ would’ve been a better promotional single (musically and stylistically) to unveil before 10 Year Plan released; both ‘I See Stars’ and ‘Wild Hearts’ are nevertheless good songs if you want to introduce someone to the vibe of The Shires on this album- ‘I See Stars’ speaks of the metaphorical nature of stars and how stars in effect, represent the awe and mystery, the wonder that someone experiences when they come across something unique, powerful, emotive and heartfelt. Conversely, ‘stars’ could also represent and symbolise something that isn’t necessarily known now; but could be known later. It represents this sense of adventure, going out into the vastness and understanding that there’s still things out there that need to be discovered, and that right now, it’s ok to not understand all of it. ‘I See Stars’ the song speaks of a relationship with someone like that. The wonder and awe of someone when you discover something new about them will hopefully never fade, while the vast unknown about someone (usually at the start of said relationship) shouldn’t deter someone from jumping in further and exploring where that relationship goes. Seeing ‘stars’ in a relationship can be a good thing or a ‘bad’ thing, but even if it is both, we see this duo paint the song in a declatory celebratory light, as we’re reminded that whatever we discover about the other person, good or ‘bad’, is another opportunity for us to learn deeper and love more unconditionally, the other person in our pursuit of love that transcends condition and expectation.
‘Wild Hearts’ on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily go as ‘deep’ as ‘I See Stars’, but nevertheless offers up 2 cents worth about the topic of hearts that long to cut loose from all the restrictions placed upon it- arguably a clever metaphor about COVID-19, coming out of lockdown, and exploring feelings that maybe, ironically, your heart may have forgotten. ‘Wild Hearts’ is a reminder that some things, rightly or wrongly, just can’t be ‘tamed’, and that includes the heart. ‘Wild Hearts’ is an extension of what people could be feeling after a couple of years of uncertainty and worrisome moments of us, wondering when life, and if life, could ever go back to normal, ever again. Both ‘Wild Hearts’ and ‘I See Stars’ form the backbone of the album in a holistic sense, and these two tracks are, in a nutshell, how the rest of 10 Year Plan is going to go.
Throughout the rest of the album, we see Chrissy and Ben deliver poignant and powerful songs of hope, encouragement, lament, contentment, and regret, as we see a plethora of themes discussed in an album heavily influenced by the last couple of years and the toll that COVID-19 has had on our collective soul. ‘Cut Me Loose’ starts at track #1, as we see lead vocalist Chrissy Rhodes deliver some of the most hauntingly relatable lyrics to have come out of a bout in isolation over the last 2 years. This issue of commitment (or lack thereof) between couples and even potential couples seems to be a running theme over the last little while. ‘Cut Me Loose’ discusses breakups and commitment with frank honesty, as we see one of the most impactful lyrics being sung in the chorus, where Chrissy masterfully points out to the other person in said song, ‘…you got me chasing you, love me, let me go, just choose, ’cause you’re leading me on, then leaving me here, you’re wearing my heart like a souvenir, so cut me loose, hold me tight or cut me loose…’ One thing that people like less than people who don’t commit, are people that are indifferent to the concept altogether. It’s one thing to be all in, and another to be not in at all. But to string someone along in a relationship, when you’re trying to play both the ‘taken’ card and the ‘single’ card, is downright cruel, and I guess the band is trying to talk to that crowd, in the first track. ‘Sparks Fly’ follows along from the album opener and is placed as track #2, as we see the duo present this mature sense of what love looks like in adults in today’s society right now. As we know from this age-old ‘wise’ saying of the past, we don’t ever discuss religion, money, and politics at the table, because it’s going to be contentious to someone there. Discussions are going to be had, and there will be staunch rivalries there, somewhere. ‘Sparks Fly’ is indeed a reminder that you don’t necessarily have to mention the words ‘religion, money, politics’ for discussion to even take place- for within a relationship from the get-go, people in it could have different views on all three. What happens then? The song really asks if religious beliefs, attitude towards money or political affiliation has a bearing on whether a relationship works or not. While that answer to that question is a lot more nuanced than initially first believed; ‘Sparks Fly’, if anything, longs for us to talk out these issues as a familial unit, and even in the end if we don’t agree, then the love for each other should still transcend all of that.
‘Side By Side’ speaks about…fate? Destiny? Chances and probabilities of being with the one that you’re with. All of that. It’s a song that reminds us hopefully, that some things in life have to be God-ordained, that it couldn’t happen any other way. ‘Side By Side’ speaks from the vantage point of a couple later on in their relationship, looking back at all the circumstances that got them to that point, and we as listeners realise that the chances and possibilities that out of everyone in the world, the fact that these two people are together…well, that alone should make the existence of God be possible, right? ‘Plot Twist’ slows down the instrumentation and presents an acoustic vibe and atmosphere, a la The Civil Wars or Ben Rector, as Chrissie and Ben both perform with much grace, poise, honesty, and emotion. The song itself sees the persona view her relationship right now; and is unfortunately feeling as though everything is too good to be true, that she’s waiting for the ‘plot twist’, for everything to come down on her, for someone to say, ‘ha ha, gotcha’. Which is a sad way to look at things, but if you’ve been stung in relationships again and again, then you’re going to be wary of the one that you’re in. ’10 Year Plan’ follows along from that; and brings with it some kind of whimsical fun as we laugh and smile about plans, sometimes the futility of them, and even the outlandishness of the plans themselves. Yes, we all have plans, but they, like everything, change. We grow, and refocus, we realign, and our plans change along with it. ’10 Year Plan’ has a dig at people (all of us) who utilise plans in some shape or form, but then flips everything on its head to state these words of how ‘…if making you happy, if that’s all I can do, I’ll put my dreams on the back burner, they mean nothing without you, never forgetting how lucky I am is right at the top of my ten year plan…’ It’s a reminder that plans and everything that comes with it, don’t mean anything, if you’re not celebrating successes and mourning failures with the people you care about as well.
‘A Bar Without You’ delivers a fun way of showcasing what happens directly after a breakup…you go out for a drink. But it’s not your usual joyful bar song a la ‘Downtown’ from Lady A, but rather a song that, to put it bluntly, more real. There are some instances where you may go about your menial tasks in the direct aftermath of the breakup (like drinking), but then all you see is this person. Someone orders their favourite drink, and then you’re back there with them. Someone tells a funny joke, and you know it’s their favourite joke. You start to realise that you ‘see’ them everywhere you go in the direct aftermath of the messiness which is a relationship ending…what do you do with that? Sure, this song by The Shires attempts to make light of an incredibly dark situation, but in reality, it can take more than just a few drinks to ‘forget’ this person. It can take years of counselling, healing, therapy, and prayer. And even then, something random can still bring you back to that place where you’re there with this person. It’s a funny thing to navigate, but hopefully, we can realise we’re not alone when we hear such songs like ‘A Bar Without You’. ‘Baby We’re Rich’ brings forth a more hopeful atmosphere as duo stress the importance of knowing and understanding we’re far richer than we know that we are. We may not have the latest ____ or ____, but we could be better than them in the departments of love, respect, kindness and empathy, things that can’t be taught, but rather, learnt, and experienced.
The Shires also bring to us songs like ‘Sky Dive’ and ‘Forever Tonight’, the former (‘Sky Dive’) about someone realise that in the very presence of their significant other, they want to be better people- be more adventurous, reckless, crazy, just be out of the box and unlike you in every good way possible’; while the latter (‘Forever Tonight’) is a poignant reminder to take the next step with our significant other if that were possible, because sometimes the best possible thing someone can do is spend life and do life with one other person, knowing that that act of commitment is a way of honouring them and all they are and do. A demo of ‘Peggy I’m Sorry’ enters in the track listing next (maybe there’s an actual studio recording of ‘Peggy I’m Sorry’ coming later on during the year?), where the persona is talking to Peggy (???), apologising for all the things they’ve done (or haven’t done) in said situation, and is a reminder for each of us to make amends with the people we love and care about, before it’s too late (some could even die before we make amends, which would actually suck, big time). The album then rounds out with ‘When It Hurts’, and catalogues everything of what marriage and family are really about. We don’t just love people when things are going well, and then leave when things get rough and tough. When we’re making a promise to stay with our significant other through thick and thin, it wasn’t just flippant hollow words. They meant something. Or they should’ve. People don’t just walk out on marriages with no specific grounds. Not because it’s inconvenient, not because it ‘hurts’. Marriages are breaking down so easily now, and therefore it’s good to have a song that reminds us of the necessity for marriage in an unfortunately pluralistic society.
So there you have it…10 Year Plan. The Shires at their best. Delivering country music in a way that only people from the U.K. and Ireland would do. With a lot more…heart? Intensity? Passion? Realness? Whatever the case, I’ve realised this over the last couple of days. I get more excited about artists from the U.K. and Ireland than I care to admit. Artists like Phil Collins, Leona Lewis, Lucy Thomas, Delirious?, Rend Collective, U2, Coldplay, Elton John, The Corrs, Matt Redman, Tim Hughes, Philippa Hanna, and to some extent Kylie Minogue, Natalie Imbruglia and Paul Colman…these artists have one thing in common- they’re all from the U.K. and surrounding Ireland. The Shires as well. And these artists have reminded me that you don’t have to be from the U.S. to be good. Country music in the UK is evidence of that. Sure, country music from across the pond may not be as ‘formulaic’ as what people hear in the U.S., but maybe that’s ok. Music from Britain wasn’t always as ‘polished’ as anything from America, and maybe that’s the point. Life isn’t sanitised, and maybe, just maybe, music shouldn’t be either. Well done Chrissie and Ben for these 13 songs. Some of the best in your career thus far. Hoping that people catch on to The Shires, arguably one of the most underrated duos, in any country and any genre, of the 2010s decade…period.
3 songs to listen to: Sparks Fly, Wild Hearts, When It Hurts
RIYL: Ward Thomas, Ronan Keating, The McClymonts, Lady A, Tenille Townes, Ella Henderson