Thursday, 31 July 2014

The Shires - The Institute, Birmingham Wednesday 30th July 2014

UK new 'country' duo The Shires have been presented with an unprecedented opportunity to make a well backed record that could take this modern genre of music in this country into unchartered territory. Formed a little over a year ago and now under the wing of Decca Records, the duo of Chrissie Rhodes and Ben Earle are being targeted at taking on the country pop wing of Nashville’s mainstream elite at their own game. In preparation for their upcoming debut album release, The Shires have undertaken a few UK dates to add some experience to the media adulation being bestowed upon them. As a consequence, the upstairs room at Birmingham’s established Institute venue was well attended with an audience intrigued to find out more about the band.

Opening up for The Shires on this short tour was young singer songwriter Frankie Davies who played an half hour set of acoustic driven country music with a slight edge and no little heart. There was a flicker of maturity in her performance which benefitted from an impressive vocal range, solid guitar playing and an enterprising enthusiasm for her music. Not afraid from sharing the intimate inspiration for her art, Frankie struck the right chord for what is needed to interpret and tap into high quality country music. The moving ‘Superman’ is her current framed gift to the music world and this was well supported on the evening by a song recalled to be ‘High Love’ and the excellent ‘Dancing All Night’. Perhaps it was the commitment after several years to conquer the ‘Highwayman’ and play this iconic song live which more than most showed Frankie’s intent to make inroads on the country music circuit.

Chrissie and Ben are not short of experience in their individual music endeavours and they have to quickly draw on this to match the pace of their rapid evolution as The Shires. The hour long set they played in Birmingham was packed with original material that weaved in a host of personal inspiration alongside designated strategically targeted material. The vocals of Chrissie are highly suited to the style of music being desired as she can effortlessly move into power mode. Ben is a determined songwriter who is at ease delivering his songs both from guitar and keyboards.

Frankie Davies
Of the two singles released to date, and obviously both featured in the set, ‘Tonight’ outshone ‘Nashville Under Grey Skies’ and one can envisage the day when a backing band takes the live rendition of the former into a higher stratosphere than the Institute’s Temple room. While you feel the numbers ‘Made in England’, ‘Stateline’ and their take on the country staple of drinking whiskey are a little contrived, there is an enormous depth of sincerity to ‘I Just Wanna Love You’, ‘Black and White’ and a song belatedly added to the set list believed to be ‘Only Midnight’.

With a determination to steer clear of country covers and develop a reputation as a strong song writing duo, the couple only strayed into the works of others for their solitary encore number and strikingly stripped down Candi Staton’s dance classic ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ to a slow acoustic ballad. With the new album out soon, the wait will almost be over to see if The Shires can meet the lofty ideals of those prepared to invest in their talents. As a duo, they haven’t had the benefit of a serious grounding via a heap of career shaping gigs and soul searching indie releases but they have the chance of a lifetime to fulfil their individual personal goals of making waves in the music industry. 

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