Thirteen years after the release of their first album, one band member down, and a sweep of Canadian music awards under their belt, and High Valley have had consistent success. But the dizzy heights at the top of the American country charts have eluded them. So could their latest EP – ‘Grew Up On That’ – see them take a step up?
High Valley have a knack for infusing traditional bluegrass with a modern commercial sound, but there is a lot less blue about this EP than fans might expect. Make way for more pop country endeavour, with slick production and rich vocal layers. This is a celebration of love, life, mothers, kids, and a good old fashioned upbringing.
On first listen there is little to stand out. But the more you listen the more you hear, and Brad Rempel has clearly honed his song writing skills with the help of some famous friends. Tenille Townes, Corey Crowder and Randy Montana are big name writers on the album, and the only outside cut – ‘Your Mama’ – was co-written by Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard. On the performance side, Jillian Edwards features on the track ‘Show Me The Way’.
It is perhaps ironic that brother Bryan left the band in 2014 to spend more time with his family, because this is all about family. From the title track ‘Grew Up On That’, which gives us a glimpse of their rural Canadian childhood (it turns out, not so different to every other stereotype childhood in a country song), to ‘Your Mama’ which is a sweet speech to their kids about how lucky they are to have their mothers. This EP is a gushing idealistic portrayal of family life, from the “floor boards creakin’ in our cabin in the woods” to the “Barefoot blue jean kids on a rope swing.”
‘Your Mama’ is one of the more original tracks. There is a colloquial approach to the lyrics, which makes it heartfelt and genuine. It’s easy to imagine either Curtis or Brett saying to their children: “Boy, she sure is gorgeous, ain’t she son.” It’s going to be a staple track on any Mother’s Day playlist, that’s for sure.
There is no room for vocal sloppiness in a duo and these are some of the tightest vocals heard from the band. They shine in the a capella moments on ‘River Still Running’ and ‘Northern Star’. In ‘River Still Running’ the simplicity of the bare vocals at the start matches the message of the song: whatever is happening in the world, it’s alright if the river’s still running.
It’s in ‘Northern Star’ in particular though, when the vocal parts are woven expertly together towards the end of the song, that you really feel it is their voices driving the momentum through their music. It’s a very Mumford and Sons sounding track and perhaps the one that could have the widest appeal to audiences beyond country music.
So individually the songs are great, but brought together it’s a little bit one dimensional. There’s no light and shade, no sense of journey in the collection of tracks as a whole. It’s just all, well… lovely. You could argue that the EP has a tight celebratory family theme, but the repetition in some of the lyrics (northern star and the King James Bible being just two examples of ideas that crop up in multiple songs) feels too safe.
So perhaps it’s not the big step on that High Valley could have taken with this EP, but individually there are still enough bright relatable moments to be worth a listen.
- Grew Up On That (Brad Rempel, Ben Stennis, Jaron Boyer)
- Your Mama (Ben West, Tyler Hubbard, Josh Miller, Troy Verges)
- River’s Still Running (Brad Rempel, Randy Montana, Corey Crowder)
- Northern Star (Brad Rempel, Matt Rogers, Ben Stennis)
- One Day You’ll Get It (Brad Rempel, Derrick Southerland, Ben West)
- Show Me The Way (feat. Jillian Edwards) (Brad Rempel, Daniel Tashian, Tenille Nadkrynechny)