WARD THOMAS // ALBERT HALL, MANCHESTER
WARD THOMAS BRING THEIR UK HEADLINE TOUR TO MANCHESTER’S ALBERT HALL WITH SPECIAL GUESTS… ‘THE WANDERING HEARTS’
Ward Thomas arrived amidst a rejuvenated country scene back in 2014 with their debut record From Where We Stand. The album possessed all the conventions new fans had come to expect based on exposure to shows like the soapy drama Nashville, which heralded the arrival and success of stars like Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves amongst others. The duo built on this boom with Cartwheels in 2016, before this year's Restless Minds completed the picture just prior to their arrival at Manchester's Albert Hall this evening.
It's fair to say that half of Manchester is nervously checking football updates during the impressive support from The Wandering Hearts, but by the time they close their joyful set with the distinguished 'Devil', the band from London have provided enough Americana delights to ensure we've forgotten about how the team in red are faring in Paris. As the game entered the crucial second half, the question would be whether or not Ward Thomas could maintain the same energy and levels of distraction.
Show opener 'Lie Like Me' certainly suggest that this will be the case. The Restless Minds track is an uptempo number that charges out of the country stable with pop harmonies swirling energetically in its slipstream. There's a rattling energy to proceedings which is maintained impressively by the Fleetwood Mac stylings of 'Guilty Flowers'. The full sound and the Hampshire twins' faultless fraternity continues into 'Same Love'. The track is one of the top picks from Restless Minds and showcases the duo's country credentials that they have built upon since their debut release. Ultimately though, a label and artist will crave exposure; for many country artists that has resulted in their sound being watered down by more pop-friendly elements and when 'Hopeless' and 'Little Girl Sorrow' come along, this seems to be the case with Ward Thomas.
There's no denying the grace of the delivery and combined with the sister's down-to-earth interaction with the audience, the experience is not an unfavourable one. It's just not the reason why they appealed in the first place, and the lull in proceedings appears to kickstart an interest in the game in Paris once again. 'No Fooling Me' is grounded in that traditional country balladry and performing perched on stage cubes with the rest of the band enhances the intimacy of the moment, but this mid-section of the evening just has too many of these slushy pop songs that are ultimately a bit too syrupy to really engage.
By the time 'I Believe in You' arrives, the red half of Manchester is unexpectedly celebrating and this jaunty, upbeat song signals a joyful return to more passionate territory. It also appears that the sisters have more fun during these moments too and it prompts an excitable return to the more authentic country tones of From Where We Stand for a handful of tracks. It's no surprise that this also sees the crowd perk up also.
The new record may have its problems then, but it also includes the impressive 'No Filter' which we learn is the most important song on the album. Dealing with the impact of social media on our lives and our relationships, it is a song full of spirit and relevant sentiment and the vocal elements soar spectacularly. Bar the misfiring inclusion of 'This Too Will Pass', the decision to close on 'Carry You Home' is inspired, as is the decision to invite The Wandering Hearts back to add to the joyful texture of the song. If anything, this is further proof that in these moments Ward Thomas have the country AND pop credentials to carve an incandescent niche in the genre. Add the sickly sugar and sentiment of the ballads to the mix and this is where the wheels start to come off and their original fans start to lose interest. Unfortunately, there was just a bit too much of this in Manchester this evening.
SETLIST: | WARD THOMAS : ALBERT HALL, MANCHESTER - 06.03.2019
Lie Like Me
Little Girl Sorrow
No Fooling Me
Ain’t That Easy
One More Goodbye
I Believe in You
It’s Not Just Me
The Good and the Right / Town Called Ugley / Push For The Stride
Rather Be Breathing
This Too Will Pass
Carry You Home