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High Valley

Dear Life – 2016 (Warner Nashville)

Reviewed by Jeff Lincoln

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CDs by High Valley

There's a scene in the movie "Bull Durham" where Kevin Costner tells Tim Robbins how holding the record for most home runs in the minor leagues is kind of a dubious honor - it shows a lot of years that you didn't make it to the majors. Is that what being the biggest country band in Canada is like? High Valley, who've scored an impressive run of Great White North charting singles and awards, would disagree - Shania's a Canuck ,of course. And everybody's from somewhere.

Somewhere for brothers Brad and Curtis Rempel happened to be a Mennonite community outside of La Crete, Alberta - it's an easy 39-hour drive from Nashville. As High Valley, the duo works fast and often. For evidence, see their stretch of four CD releases in six years with a Christian music bent. But this is a big one - Atlantic signed them in 2015, and this is their first for a major label.

The lead single, "Make You Mine," certainly is raucous and built to entertain. It's the Mumford and Sons sound that's been a goldmine: frenetic acoustic strumming atop a booming bass drum. There's even a dog bark in there. Brad, who sings and co-writes most of their tracks, considers it their bluegrass "bullseye." Still, the album has a pretty deep bench - the opener "She's With Me," concerning a guy who can't believe his good luck, really crackles. It's a pleasing meld of modern production (hand claps and digital scratching) along with banjo and tight harmonies. When things finally get slower in the encouraging "Don't Stop," the proceedings resonate with genuine warmth.

Brad Rempel's still-youthful voice recalls Lonestar's Richie McDonald, with rich tone and confidence. That's a good thing. But if the album has a sin, it's in lack of imagination. These boys might love manic arrangements ("Dear Life," "I Be U Be," "Roads We've Never Taken," "Soldier") a little too much. Maybe you have to keep moving fast to block out the cold up north. Given the fist-pump ready anthem "Young Forever" as their closer, though, High Valley is aiming for a high-energy tour. Whoever sees them better wear comfortable shoes - there won't be much sitting down.