Ward Thomas have been hailed as the UK’s first “country music stars,” and their second album, Cartwheels, reached number one in the UK album charts before going silver. British twin sisters Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas have talent—I’m not disputing that—but I question whether their sound is worthy of the being included in the country music cannon. As a Dallas girl (and yes, we do have a stronger country music legacy than Nashville), I have high standards for country. George Strait, Lyle Lovett, Lee Ann Womack, Kasey Musgraves, and Kenny Rogers are just some of the artists who call Texas home. That’s high competition for those hailing the small island.
This week, Ward Thomas put out new single, “No Filter,” the first song off Restless Minds, due to release in January 2019. Leading an album that’s rumored to tackle issues like social media, the women’s movement and the meaning of truth, “No Filter” encourages listeners to be brutally honest and “stop hiding the way [they] did before.” The sentiment seems real and the song does have an emotional gravitas, but let’s be clear: this is not country.
Yes, Ward Thomas has a gift for classic, subtle harmonies, an essential ingredient in country music. And as “No Filter” would seem to suggest, the sisters place a high value on honesty and emotion. This is, after all, the reason country captures listeners’ hearts: it’s real and gripping, grappled from true and difficult experience. Somehow, that experience gets lost across the pond.
What Ward Thomas fundamentally puts out is a pop sound, bright, danceable and warm. It’s a layered sound of strong percussion, electronic beats, and husky voices.
Ward Thomas follows on The Shires and the UK’s growing import of American country artists through events like the annual Country2Country festival. Country in the UK is a growing trend in a time where pop continues to influences country music. But I can hear a difference between traditional country artists, like Lady Antebellum, and Ward Thomas.
I’ll concede that first album, From Where We Stand, has a couple of tracks that sound more traditionally country, like “Push for the Stride” and “Way Back When,” but they’re slim and come mostly at the beginning of that album. Even in that album, you can hear Ward Thomas sisters slipping into the pop vacuum. The seeds of a genre cross-over were already there.
I know, economically, pop is better for an artists’ long-term career because it’s more mass market. But I’m a country purist and I believe the great genre will continue to stand the test of time, supported by those that truly understand its increases rather than viewing it simply as a cheap hook to get your foot into the already crowded music scene.
So I won’t judge you if you pick up Ward Thomas’ Restless Minds in January—I’ll probably pick it up myself. It’s good music; it’s just not country. So If y’all could excuse me, I’m gonna go find myself a yellow rose and Holiday Cheer Shiner.
Listen to more of Ward Thomas on Spotify.