2014 marked a big change for the British country scene. Not only did it see The Shires release their debut EP for Decca, but it saw the formation of Jess and the Bandits and the debut album from Ward Thomas. The latter proved a runaway success. Having worked the country live scene for several years, their harmony driven sound boasted an authentic contemporary classic feel that was only slightly undermined by their faux-American accents. The independent release went on to sell an impressive 25,000 copies and enjoyed an extended stretch at the top of the UK country charts. Now signed to a major, can Ward Thomas conquer the difficult second album?
The first thing to note when listening to their sophomore release Cartwheels is that this is not a country album. It may be labelled as such, but this is essentially a harmony pop record that has been shaped by a love of country music. While Ward Thomas haven’t gone full Taylor Swift and produced a pop record, they have found a sound that they define rather than allowing a sound to define them. That is the real strength at the heart of the album.
Also notable is the return of their native Hampshire accent, a move with also strengthens the authenticity of the collection. While it was apparent from the emotion showcased on From Where We Stand’s impressive storytelling that the twins had a lot to share, by singing in their natural accent, the stories shared on Cartwheels feel more like they really own them.
Opening the collection is the album’s lead single Carry You Home, a flawlessly selected release which explodes with positivity and will have you singing along within seconds. The formula is applied throughout the album, with the most immediate songs standing out for their singability – even if the subject matter veers towards heartbreak (the Avril Lavigne driven anthem Lose Me, and dizzying Boomerang).
While the up-tempo will have you humming irrepressibly, the Ward Thomas twins are two of the most compelling balladeers in the current music scene. Thankfully the spine tingle factor has not been missed from the collection, with Where The Sky Is and Who I’m Not hitting all the right notes, even if album closer Safe doesn’t quite reach it’s full potential.
Cartwheels as an album is a stunning body of work. While there a couple of mis-steps, most notably it’s most country cut, the paint by numbers Dirt and Gold, it not only reinforces the foundations laid by their debut album, but widens their reach and solidifies their sound. They may not be a country duo, but they are a duo you need in your collection.