You’d be forgiven for not having heard of the Shires. Yes, the Hertfordshire duo may have been the first UK country musicians to achieve a Top 10 album – but the UK country scene is small. And those who are in it, even the best dogs, stay out of the mainstream. On their fifth album, Crissie Rhodes and Ben Earle attempt to bring the lilting melodies and apple pie values of the genre to a new audience.
10 year plan is smooth sailing. Harsh, radio-ready country-pop with no bite. Even “Sparks Fly,” a track about heated political debates over family dinners, turns into mushy sentiments extolling the virtue of agreeing to disagree. While there’s something to be said for releasing a joyful and provocative record right now, this album sadly doesn’t say it. Throughout the album, you wait for the Shires to pull the trigger with a foot-tapping chorus that never comes.
As a banjo twang introduces “10 Year Plan,” it’s a welcome return to country 101. There’s that southern beat. And those overly literal lyrics relayed in a catchy, rambling list: “I’ll climb the Rockies / Maybe fly a plane / Buy a boat.” Pure and absurd joy. The song builds on the formula but the Shires sell it with infectious vigor and schmaltz.
Rhodes and Earle’s vocals feel capable – athletic but untested, like atrophied muscles, running the same circuit over and over again. While country duo Robert Plant and Alison Krauss often play their vocals against each other, Earle and Rhodes talk about symmetry. Across 13 tracks, there are no frills or unexpected surprises. It’s melodically indistinct and uninspiring. Everything is where it should be. This is the problem.