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The Shires Are Eyeing American Radio With New Album ‘Good Years’

The Shires
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The Shires

The Shires, made up of Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes, are the best-selling country duo in the U.K., and with the release of their fourth studio album, Good Years, out Friday (March 13), the band are eyeing U.S. airplay. With spellbinding harmonies that recall those of Lady Antebellum, the duo admit that for a long time, they wanted to be the "U.K. Lady Antebellum."

“We love love songs, we love ballads and we love singing together in harmony,” Earle tells Billboard over the phone from the U.K. minutes after rehearsal for their since canceled set at the European country music festival C2C. “We’re very positive and uplifting, and that’s what I feel when I listen to Lady Antebellum.”

The U.S.-based country trio has inspired the Shires in countless ways. Before the duo met in 2013 thanks to a mutual connection on Facebook, Earle and Rhodes were solo acts contemplating their futures in the music business. Earle admits that it was hearing Lady A’s 2009 crossover hit “Need You Now” that pushed him to keep chasing his dream as a country singer.

“Lady A are a huge inspiration. When I heard ‘Need You Now’ … it was like coming home. It was everything I loved about music, and I didn’t know that you could write and sing songs like that,” Earle says.

With a new sense of purpose in pursuing country music in the U.K., Earle posted a message on Facebook saying that he was looking for a female country singer who was living in London. A mutual friend tagged Rhodes and she sent Earle a few of her country covers on YouTube. He sent her four original songs and they arranged to meet the next day.

“We were just super excited to meet another person that liked country music, and we both had the same vision of wanting to be in this duo and singing country music together,” adds Rhodes. “We were completely on the same page and everything just fell into place from there.”

Within eight months of forming the band, the Shires signed a record deal, and the following month, they were in Nashville for the first time recording their debut album. “We were like two kids at Disneyland -- there's country music everywhere,” Earle says of their first trip to Music City for writing sessions. “Nashville is so welcoming. We love coming over. It’s been a great place for us.”

Seven years later, the Shires have released their fourth studio album after signing a new deal with Nashville-based BBR Music Group/BMG. After years of success in the U.K. and touring with acts such as Little Big Town, Carrie Underwood and Sam Hunt, the Shires are hoping their new label home will result in U.S. country radio airplay.

“We’re kind of in our own lane in country music. We’re played on national radio and it goes out to people all over the country and all over the world too,” Rhodes says of their brand of country music. “The country scene has been growing and growing here. To watch it take off has been pretty incredible. … From what we hear from a lot of the songwriters and the artists in Nashville, they say that they love what we’re doing, and they would love to hear us on American radio. We feel like hopefully this is our time now. We moved record labels recently. We're now with Broken Bow and BMG in Nashville, and so this is our shot. We really feel like we’ve been working at it for a long time over here.”

Their lead single, “About Last Night,” highlights the duo’s distinct brand of country music with soaring harmonies, ear-grabbing production and a relatable lyric. A radio-friendly power ballad about a pair of friends who cross the line, it evokes a similar emotion to that of Lady Antebellum’s yearning “Need You Now.”

“‘About Last Night’ is a song that sonically and lyrically … it’s a harmony-driven song with both our vocals and not much else going on,” Earle says. “We’ve always wanted to get a ‘Need You Now’; that was our goal. I love how conversational it is, just saying ‘I need you now.’ It’s so relatable. ‘About Last Night’ is two people saying, ‘Can we talk about what happened last night?’ I love songs that are conversational. They’re so relatable. You just say how it is and everyone can relate to it. This song really resonated with us … it’s heartfelt, it’s a ballad but it also has a bit of energy behind it.”

The Shires co-wrote 10 of the 12 songs on Good Years, and Rhodes says they always write from what they’re going through in their lives. “They are very much time capsules of our life,” she says of the songs. “This album comes from a reflective place. Our third album that we released, we made a conscious effort that we wanted to play more upbeat songs to have a bigger show. This album is a mixture of all three albums. There’s some really heartfelt ballads on there.”

One of the most heartfelt songs is album closer “Crazy Days,” which Earle penned by himself late at night on piano when his kids went to sleep. The poignant piano ballad has Earle singing of the struggles of living life on the road while his family is at home.

“It’s quite a challenge having these two lives. This music life and family life. I’ve got a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old and it’s a real balancing act,” Earle says. “I wrote the song late at night when the kids were asleep. I’ve never been able to get a better take. That’s actually a vocal take from the shed in the garden. Even though it’s a song so specific to what I’m going through right now, we tried to keep the lyrics as universal as possible. That one is the most personal one on this record.”

Additional album highlights include the infectious opening track “Lightning Strikes” penned by Cam, and empowering “Independence Day,” which offers hope to a friend following a breakup.

“It's about talking to a close friend or family member about trying to find that strength after a relationship has broken down,” Rhodes explains, adding that some may think it’s about the American holiday. “It's so hard. So many people have been in that situation, when you feel like your whole world has kind of caved in because you lost the love of your life [and you’re] trying to find that independence again. It’s going to be all right and it’s actually really healthy to have time on your own to find yourself again.”

While the Shires plan to promote Good Years with their upcoming U.K. headlining tour in May, the album’s promotion plans this time around are visibly different due to the ongoing threat of the coronavirus. The band’s previously scheduled Saturday (March 14) set at the C2C festival was cancelled Friday following the global pandemic of COVID-19 and the changing nature of travel policies in other countries. Additionally, their typical meet-and-greet options have been halted.

“We absolutely love meeting our fans, and we were meant to do a whole CD album signing around the country and get to say hi to fans, but it’s completely not our decision,” Rhodes says of passing on meet-and-greets for the time being. “We can’t do that with everything going on. It’s not possible to do that. We love doing all of that, but it’s pretty sad that it won’t be happening.”

Listen to Good Years below.

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