Ward Thomas, a self-proclaimed UK ‘country’ music act showed some promise on their debut album but their follow up Cartwheels was over-produced pop music that barely referenced the genre they made their name in. This new EP of bland cover versions, A Shorter Story, is another disappointing misstep in their musical direction.
Before I go any further I need to say one thing: these young girls are talented singers and musicians. Their voices have a nice tone and together they can create lovely harmonies. However despite their potential this EP is made up of pretty plain versions of pop and indie rock songs. There are no country songs here and none of the covers sound remotely country in style. Considering the raised profile of this band it feels like they’ve missed an opportunity to bring some current country songs to a wider UK audience.
The opening song of this EP is a cover of Damien Rice’s The Blower’s Daughter, which is a mistake from the start since there are few singers who could match the raw emotion of the original. The glossy production of Ward Thomas’ version strips back any emotional cadence from the song completely.
The next song is a Justin Timberlake cover which is really a strange switch of tone in terms of song choice. This is part of Ward Thomas’ problem – as you listen to this you get no clear sense of their musical direction or influences. To me this sounds like they’ve been forced into a slapdash cover for some kind of Radio 1 live lounge experiment or for an X Factor theme week. It just doesn’t fit their style at all.
The song Shine is another vapid pop number that is lyrically weak and while it’s an attempt to change tempo the end result is utterly forgettable. The next choice is a Kings of Leon cover – again switching from pop back to more indie rock music with mixed results. The problem with this song is that Kings of Leon have gone pop too so there’s little credibility to be found in covering this song. They even use that ubiquitous electronic drumbeat and overall it sounds like a second rate Taylor Swift cast off. The final song – a sweet cover of Crowded House’s Better Be Home Soon – is probably the best thing here. It’s technically sung well, of course, but you just want to see more edge, or honesty of feeling or even just a little bit more personality in the vocals.
Every song on this EP sounds so criminally inoffensive. Maybe that’s just the thing – these are nice girls, singing nice music for nice people. There just doesn’t seem to be any depth to it. A lot of the British country scene seems to be people who’ve watched Nashville then bought a floppy hat and an acoustic guitar. Maybe it’s just too much to hope that these girls could be our answer to First Aid Kit, a truly distinctive pair of sister songwriters.
So here’s my advice to this band and any other UK act who wants to call themselves ‘country’. Don’t sing in fake American accents. Don’t use cliches in your lyrics. Use some traditional country instruments and arrangements. Write songs or sing songs which say something about who you are, the life you’ve lived and what you understand about the world.
And take a lesson from Taylor Swift – don’t call yourself country if what you really want to be is a pop star.
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