Cage Free Music
Release Date: May 20th 2022
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
High Valley– Way Back (Amazon mp3/iTunes)
- Way Back
- Run Outta Somedays
- Somebody Tell That Girl (feat. Anne Wilson)
- Do This Life
- World Could Use A Dirt Road
- Prayin’ Woman
- Country Music, Girls & Trucks (feat. Granger Smith)
- Whatever It takes
- All My Lovin’
- Remember You Now
- Be That For You
- She Loves
- Never Not
I think I’ve mentioned this fact several times on this website. But since branching out in 2019 to many different types of music beyond the genres of CCM and worship; I’ve been inspired and blessed to hear country music– the deep, introspective, honest, personal, emotional and reflective melodies, that hit my soul hard to the core. Artists like Carrie Underwood, Maddie & Tae, Lady A, Rascal Flatts, Hunter Hayes, Lauren Alaina, Martina McBride, Mickey Guyton, Cassadee Pope, Keith Urban, Blake Shelton, Faith Hill, Shania Twain, Thomas Rhett, Maren Morris, Lindsay Ell, Tenille Arts, Ingrid Andress, Tenille Townes, Miranda Lambert, Gabby Barrett, Chris Stapleton, Carly Pearce, Kelsea Ballerini, and even Taylor Swift; have all inspired and blessed me greatly with their powerful, confronting, and challenging melodies. Even though I’m not American, it is these artists above who have helped place this genre in a special place in my heart. Yet Life Rolls On by Florida Georgia Line was, for all intents and purposes, an album that made me lose my faith in country music a little bit. Not a lot, but just a little bit. I reviewed the album here, but the gist of my assessment of one of the most blandest country albums I’ve ever heard; was that it was honestly a train-wreck. I can’t sugar-coat this review, and it made me think that maybe the country genre was more like another cog in the machine of mass-produced Nashville inspired melodies; rather than the deep-thinking, moving, and thought-provoking genre I initially believed it to be. Albums from Walker Hayes (Country Stuff The Album) and Brian Kelley (Sunshine State Of Mind) initially proved my hypothesis- that deep thinking country music wasn’t the norm, and that perhaps I happened to listen to good country artists when perhaps the whole genre had issues. And though that may be true on some level, the real truth is that there are inspiring musicians and not-so-inspiring musicians in each genre of music- country included. The past few months, Canadian country band High Valley released their latest album Way Back. Now I hadn’t heard of these guys before (and it was up and coming CCM/country singer Anne Wilson tweeting about their song together called “Somebody Tell That Girl”, that made me semi interested in their music in the first place!); but I initially presumed that they’d be another ‘bro-country’ artist like Dan + Shay or Florida Georgia Line. I came into this album with low expectations, but still an interest to listen to this album because it was country. The result was a collection of 13 honest, hopeful, vulnerable, and inspiring melodies that are powerful, impacting, and well-worth the listen. High Valley probably isn’t the most popular country band. But this album is important, and this album is needed; especially in these times of COVID-19 and political division around the world.
Ultimately, we had all these songs, and we went back to the same way that we originally chose ‘Make You Mine’ and ‘She’s With Me.’ It was by fan-voting. So we just put everything out on TikTok and Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and literally tallied all the votes. And that’s how we came up with some of these songs, like ‘Way Back’ or, or ‘World Could Use a Dirt Road.’ We weren’t sure if they were gonna make the album or not and ‘Way Back’ ended up being the title track.
I feel pretty awesome about it because it’s been six years. We had an EP in between, but I quite honestly felt just sad for our fans. I was so blessed and so thankful for my song writing career, and that so many other people were cutting the songs. Don’t get me wrong, that’s some of the coolest experiences of my life. And I’m so proud of that, but it felt borderline ridiculous for the actual High Valley fans, that High Valley wasn’t recording some of these songs after that long of an amount of time. So, I am beyond pumped to not just put out eight songs or even ten but 13 songs. I think it’s about time.
Opening with the poppy, poignant and inspiring title track; the melody is about a trip down memory lane, with lead singer Brad Rempel revealing and outlining that he longs to go ‘way back’ to his past, and that he longs to be living in simpler times. Brad and his brothers used to grow up in a Mennonite community, and so with him and his brothers being used to a small town and that close-knit community; this track harkens back to the good times Brad had as a child. A track that simply speaks about wanting to strip away all of the messy complications in life and instead live life a bit simpler and much more connected to people on a face-to-face and a soul level; “Way Back” sets the tone for the rest of the album, as the band deliver and reveal to us vulnerable and inspiring melodies that are relatable for whatever season of life we’re in.
With the rest of Way Back being an album full of sentimentality and looking back fondly upon key moments in our lives; “Run Outta Somedays” captures the heartbeat of the album in my opinion. As Brad and his friends fervently and gracefully outline that someday all of our ‘somedays’ won’t exist anymore; the piano led ballad speaks about living for the moment and about doing the things you want to do right now, actually right now. As a human race, we always have this tendency to procrastinate and to ‘vow’ to do something later on, at an undetermined date. But we aren’t promised tomorrow; and as Brad truthfully and emotionally highlights that ‘…somedays come, somedays go, someday ya gonna run outta road, don’t wait on forever, forever don’t wait, someday ya gonna run outta somedays…’, we are all encouraged to be active and purposeful in whatever we do today in the here and now. Album highlight and lead single “Somebody Tell That Girl”, an emotional and honest ballad and a duet with CCM/country singer Anne Wilson, speaks about self-worth and identity (similar in theme to for KING & COUNTRY’s “Priceless” and Kelsea Ballerini’s “homecoming queen?”). As Brad and Anne sing together in perfect harmony and deliver encouragement to all of us (but especially to young girls) that they’re already perfect and beautiful; the implication is that they’re beautiful and worthy in Jesus’ eyes- this melody is a powerful uplifter if ever there was one. “Do This Life”, a poppy country melody with EDM elements, unfortunately is a low point on this album, as Brad outlines that his world won’t feel right without his lover or spouse there with him, but lyrically, this track is filled with clichés, and actually doesn’t really sound engaging enough; while the confronting and hard-hitting “World Could Use A Dirt Road” is a melody that is thematically similar to the title track, as Brad reiterates that the world could use more simplicity and unplugging from technology now than ever before.
“Prayin’ Woman”, a testimony type mid-tempo ballad, speaks about Brad’s gratitude and thankfulness to ‘a prayin’ woman’. Whether this song is an ode and tribute to his mother or his grandmother or just a motherly figure who has taken him under her wing when he was younger, Brad pays his respects to the women in his life who have taught him about everything that he believes and holds dear at the moment. It’s a solid yet not spectacular song (both musically and lyrically), but there’s no denying the passion behind this melody. Although, if I ever want to listen to an uplifting song about godly women, then “That Home” by Newsboys is the pinnacle, and not this track. “Country Music, Girls And Trucks” is a song though that I wished I didn’t listen to, because that song, like “Country Stuff” by Walker Hayes, is a track that speaks about what it ‘means’ to be a country artist and what it means to be a ‘southern person’. Brad and guest vocalist Granger Smith deliver this melody to perfection, but it thematically and lyrically misses the mark for me. “Whatever It Takes”, though, is a sweet guitar led ballad about Brad’s love for his wife- with him outlining that they both will give their love whatever it takes because they both believe in the love and in the relationship so much; while the heartfelt and emotional pop/country melody “All My Lovin’” speaks about how Brad immensely loves his wife, and that all of his ‘loving’ is for her.
“Remember You Now”, a moving and inspiring melody, outlines how Brad is so enamoured by his wife, that he just wants to remember her in this current moment, instead of taking a picture and/or a photo of her (because it’s not the same!), as we ourselves are encouraged to live in the moment instead of using social media and our phones all of the time; while the exquisite and incredibly resonating ballad “Be That For You” relays to us all that Brad wants to be any kind of man for his wife that she wants him to be. It’s a forever promises to someone and a sign of commitment- and I reckon this track should be played in many weddings or receptions moving forward. “She Loves”, a middling track that sadly isn’t that memorable, speaks about how Brad is in awe of the way his wife loves him and the way his wife loves everything else she is passionate about. While Way Back ends with the beautifully recorded love song and ballad “Never Not”, where Brad outlines to his wife that he’s never not thinking about her- he’s always thinking about her day and night.
Anne’s [Anne Wilson’s] name kept popping up. Everyone in Nashville kept bragging about how great her voice was. I listened to her music and loved it just like everyone else. Thankfully, she had always wanted to be on a Country record, so she said yes to the invite. Having her voice on the song [“Somebody Tell That Girl”] makes the message way more powerful.
Some of these songs are 6 years old. Some of them were created via zoom. We went down to the beach and had a songwriting retreat down there. I write almost everyday. Sometimes with my best friends and sometimes with people I’ve never met. It was so hard to pick our favorite 13!
As a writer; almost every moment of the day is an opportunity for inspiration. I try so hard to have real life reflected in my songs. When something hits me as an idea or theme, I’ll jot it down, so I’m prepared for next time I’m in the studio looking for a title.
If we’re doing it right, High Valley records will always make people feel happy, hopeful and nostalgic at the same time. Way Back is a term that people often use to refer to a time when things were at their best. We hope this record takes people to that place but also gives them confidence that the best is yet to come.
Way Back from High Valley isn’t the most popular nor inspiring album. Some songs like “Country Music, Girls & Trucks”, “Do This Life” and “World Could Use A Dirt Road”, leave much to be desired, while others like “Somebody Tell That Girl”, “Prayin’ Woman” and “Be That For You” are thought-provoking, impacting, inspiring, moving and poignant. This album is like a mixed bag… but overall, it’s a nice project. High Valley is a country band that is plain enjoyable to listen to- they’re inoffensive, and it’s hard not to like their albums. A number of songs deserve multiple listens- and after the years we’ve had, you can’t help but be inspired and impressed when listening to this album. It’s not the best album of the year, but it does bring a smile to my face- and maybe it will to yours as well.
3 songs to listen to: Somebody Tell That Girl, Prayin’ Woman, Be That For You
RIYL: The Reklaws, Floridia Georgia Line, Maddie & Tae, Runaway June, Midland, Lady A, Old Dominion