Little Big Town / The Shires - Shepherd's Bush Empire
Country music seems to have taken off in huge way in the UK in the last few years, with more and more ‘big name’ acts taking the trip across the pond to headline tours, play one off dates or appear at London’s thriving Country 2 Country Festival, with a host of stars lined up for 2015’s bash in March.
One act closer to home that will be attending are English duo Crissie Rhodes and Ben Earle, who perform as The Shires. The pair have been winning over crowds for the last year or so, with stunning live appearances and a trio of tracks that have gone down a storm with Radio Two. Crissie and Ben release their debut album Brave at the beginning of March and have headed out on the road, supporting Little Big Town on their UK tour, enticing audiences to pick up their album with live renditions of songs like ‘Nashville Grey Skies’ and ‘Friday Night’ (whose video includes a cameo from Sons Of Anarchy actor Mark Boone Junior) helping to show it will be an essential purchase. The duo also threw a couple of covers into their set, to help get the crowd going, in the shape of Candi Staton’s ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ and Kenny and Dolly’s ‘Islands In A Stream’. Going by the SBE crowd’s reaction, I imagine The Shires will be headlining the same venue by this time next year.
With six hit albums under their belt Little Big Town are no strangers to success. The band comprising Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Jimi Westbrook and Phillip Sweet have topped the US Billboard Country Charts and have received numerous awards and nominations over the years, including a Grammy for 2013’s Pontoon.
The group’s Shepherd’s Bush slot was part of a UK tour to promote current album Pain Killer, with many of the tracks on the collection getting an airing, including the whistle heavy 'Day Drinking' and ‘Quit Breaking Up With Me’ with the song’s amusing “Censorship” sample blocking out the appearance of a “rude word”, even in the live arena! I may not know LBT's back catalogue like the back of my hand but I do feel Pain Killer is their best body of work to date. This was amply shown during live takes of 'Tumble And Fall' and the reggae-lite title track.
LBT haven't been back in the UK since their appearance at C2C in 2013. They told the audience they'd wanted to return but weren't sure we'd show up. Well, there was no chance of them playing to an empty house and there was plenty love in the room for the foursome, including one girl screaming her adoration, leading to Karen comparing her to an angry Mary Poppins! This led to a short discussion on accents, including a gentle ribbing for Kimberly, with her Southern drawl, as her accent reminded her band mates of the aforementioned Dolly, "though she was missing a couple of things, which may not be the case if they get a few more album sales!"
There were plenty older tracks that made an impression at SBE, with set closer 'Pontoon' from Tornado a stand out (and a huge fave of the man standing next to me who requested it throughout the night) and ‘Little White Church’, with its blistering guitar intro being just a couple of dazzlers, but the song that really made my evening was Pain Killer's dark and delicious 'Girl Crush', with Karen's vocals just exquisite. Lets hope it's not another two years before Little Big Town return to these shores.