The pressure is on for The Shires. In early 2015 they became the first ever British country band to enter the UK album chart Top 10. With a celebration at Country2Country 2015, they returned a year later as ambassadors of the festival, having nearly reached household name status in the UK, with their international success in its formative stages. Since then Ward Thomas pipped them to the post to claim to the first ever UK chart topping album by a British country act and Ben has helped raise the profile of his country chums Dexeter, Megan O’Neill, Dahlia and Liv Austen with a series of singles for Decca.
With the UK country landscape having evolved ten-fold into the mainstream consciousness since their debut was released, The Shires now have to deliver an album that not only tops the success of it’s predecessor but also places them on a level playing field with their contemporaries. While its commercial success will be proven over the coming weeks, can the album itself overcome the difficulties of the second album?
Quite easily is the simple answer. While Brave had beautiful moments, it was clearly an album from artist’s still finding their feet. My Universe immediately hits the mark and doesn’t falter throughout it’s 12 tracks. Aware that their faultless harmonies have become the signature of their sound, Ben and Crissie litter the album with the pre-requisite, but also allow themselves room to finally show who they are as individuals.
The album opens with the radio driven duo My Universe and Beats To Your Rhythm. With both songs having already proved their up-tempo sing-along appeal, they are a great introduction to an album that boasts more depth than both songs.
Although it is impossible to deny the toe-tapping, shoulder shaking and hip swaying appeal of tracks like Not Even Drunk Right Now, it is when the duo slow the tempo and offer an insight into their inner psyche that My Universe really excels as an album. While the tender Naked is lush, it is Crissie’s ode to her late father, Daddy’s Little Girl, that gives you the album’s first and most heartfelt spine tingles.
Equally impressive is Ben’s moment in the spotlight, Everything You Never Gave. Showcasing his skills as an honest storytelling lyricist, with his heart worn firmly on his sleeve, Ben shines as brightly as his counterpart.
While the second half of the album suffers from a few too many sonic similarities to the band’s debut album – most notably A Thousand Hallelujahs which sounds exactly like one of their former singles – the euphoric energy that runs throughout the record is truly irrepressible.
My Universe may be an album that lacks true originality as it draws to a close, but there is no doubt that The Shires have delivered an album that will not only please their original fans but win them an army of new ones.