Finding itself double-booked, 17 Seconds asked a good friend, Dr. J. Sizer, to review The Shires. This is what he reported back…
The Shires, Edinburgh Usher Hall, April 20 2017.
Looking around at the heights of the Usher Hall, any band of whatsoever age might well imagine that they’d arrived when helming a gig in such a venue. ‘It’s a long way from the Liquid Rooms,’ enthuses singer Crissie Rhodes, ‘Wowzers…!’
As the loudspeaker tunes intensified, swelling to the canned sounds of Big & Rich’s raucous ‘Save A Horse’, The Shires took to stage with their impressive aural backing of four young instrumentalists. The core duo of ‘Cris’ and Ben Earle are a kind of Buckingham Nicks for the Millennial generation, and have indeed produced work modelled on the ‘New Country’ spearheaded by the mid-70s incarnation of Fleetwood Mac. But their influences go much further into the ironic pop spectrum, as evinced by their covers of Robbie Williams’s ‘Angels’ (fresh from a BBC Chris Evans session as it happens) and the Brothers Gibb gem – retooled and countrified for Kenny and Dolly – ‘Islands In The Stream’.
With a set of seventeen songs and two encores, The Shires delivered a powerful ‘enhanced’ sort of New – and peculiarly British – Country, further strengthened by an intensive rhythm section which at times evoked Zeppelin (‘Jekyll And Hyde’). Indeed, Ben and Cris’s close harmonies were well served by their supporting band, with their lead guitarist trading in his Gibson ES335 for a dobro, whilst our rhythm guitar man deftly doubled on pedal steel for a plaintive High Lonesome Sound in the quieter Shires numbers. Though the Usher Hall audience was genuinely ebullient – The Shires seemed quite touched by the overall vibe – a moment of particular poignancy came with Cris’s ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’ (the band’s current single) which certainly discouraged dry eyes.
With an American record deal now in effect, a team of proficient Swedish songwriters for collaboration, and new realms to conquer, the Shires are well poised to launch the international phase of their recording and performative career. This early triumph before a receptive Edinburgh audience – many veterans of that first Liquid Rooms gig of 2015 – may well prove an early milestone. Though a case of preaching to the converted, Earle and Rhodes do impress with the quality of their musicianship and lyrics which begin to reach beyond the standard Country tropes.
A very special mention must be made of opening act, nineteen-year old Catherine McGrath, a talented Country aspirant from County Down whose unpretentious songs – an entirely new form of Hurtin’, it would seem – won over those audience members who took a risk (and seats) long before the headliners arrived. Her self-deprecating style only enhanced the charm of an intriguing new talent which warrants further investigation.