The UK either isn’t very good at country music, or it’s very shy about using the phrase. Indeed, if it isn’t re-classed as Americana (a head-spinning conceit by any standards!) it’s moulded into fitting into a ‘folk’ template. Why can’t it be country music? All of which introduces The Purple Shoes, a band from Shoreham-by-Sea who are, frankly, country…and why not?
Specifically, they are of the ilk of country acts who focus specifically on close harmonies, in this case of the duo who largely comprise the band, Marie Dance and Michael Bickers. Their harmonies are indeed supernaturally close, too saccharine for some perhaps but an arresting skill when you hear it done to this standard, especially on the title track to their just-released album, Small Town Fairytale.
Immediately you are transported to an era of long, swishing dresses, heads lolling from side-to-side and flowers in your hair. If Simon and Garfunkel had continued just a bit further on their fabled rail journey across England several decades ago, they’d certainly have felt at home with The Purple Shoes. A line on Angel Shoes says much – “Don’t You Come Back til You Have Stories to Tell”. This really is about the songs acting as living books, recounting the tales of characters which feel like people you really know. Folk music, if you must but yes, British country music.
Whilst the voices are excellent, the song-writing is pleasant – not damning with faint praise but neither too ear-wormy nor instantly forgettable. The excellent guitar string pluck-a-thon of Rain has Gone is somewhat balanced by Heartbreaker, a well-intentioned tribute to Tom Petty which feels very flat musically. The cobbled-together and simplistic percussion of Stomp! member Theseus Gerard does grate a little in places when you feel a fuller sound to support the twin vocal swoosh would be more appropriate. Likewise, Born to Play feels a little squeezed in, with it’s fuzzier guitar and throatier vocal. In a live setting, I can imagine this works but on record, it feels a little too glaring.
Stripped back to a more minimalist approach, tracks like I See You feel deliciously ‘right’ – an exchanged male/female verse bemoaning the trappings of a small town feel both truthful to their location and to country music. So decorously intertwined is the violin string of He Holds On that it almost feels like a trapped fly in the studio is joining in the harmonies; closer Ophelia achieves the classic album closer trick of leaving you craving more…we’ll even forgive rhyming “Ophelia” with “feel ya”. A sterling effort and an experience to look out for live when venues allow.