I fondly recall an enjoyable evening of live music with Hamilton, ON country-rockers The Redhill Valleys back in May 2019 (in the Steel City too) – where a handful of new tunes were shared with an intimate audience and hints dropped of a new album in the pipeline. For those of us longing for new music following their impressive 2016 self-titled debut album, this was great news – their highly sought follow-up album was finally close to fruition. Everything was falling into place, until BOOM, the unwelcome arrival of a global catastrophe crashed everybody’s party, including The Redhill Valleys, thus hitting the pause button on any plans for an imminent album release in the process.
Fast forward to the present day, and we are finally rewarded with some – not all – of the new material that The Redhill Valleys have kept on the backburner for a while. With the official release of “Travel Well (Pt. 1)” today, the band opt to share a six-track EP to whet our appetites, collating the four singles released between late 2020 and now (plus two previously unreleased songs), with the promise of a second EP to follow (possibly) later this year.
For the band, Tim Allard (guitars/vocals), Danielle Beaudin (guitars/vocals), Chelsea McWilliams (bass/vocals), and Matt Soliveri (drums/vocals), one positive from this mandated ‘down time’ was the extra time granted them to further develop their sound and direction. As the pandemic arrived, The Redhill Valleys were one of many country-rock bands searching for their next step; but now we’re gradually heading out of it, we find four musicians that have separated themselves from the pack, hungry to hit the ground running with a much stronger sense of purpose, vision, and determination.
“Travel Well (Pt. 1)” was co-produced by Allard with the band’s longtime friend and mentor, Carl Jennings (Freedom Train), with sessions taking place at various studios over the past six years. Even with the constraints of provincial mandates and the lockdowns that followed, The Redhill Valleys persevered. No matter how many obstacles redefined that imaginary line in the sand between the musicians and their destiny, it would have been detrimental to toss their hard-earned momentum to one side. “This is what the band has looked like and sounded like live for the past four or so years, so it’s exciting to have Travel Well represent that,” explains Chelsea. “Taking our time to make this record gave us the freedom to explore a much wider range of sounds from soft ballads to grungy, bluesy rockers.”
Instead, the band chose to roll the dice – they were primed and ready, and in November 2020, released the first single from this EP, “If I Didn’t Know You” – a track we’d heard just once before on that memorable evening in Hamilton. While the single was a much-needed shot in the arm to close out what quickly became a forgettable year, for The Redhill Valleys, things were just starting to heat up. As winter turned to spring in 2021, the band dropped numerous hints of cooking up something special in their kitchen, before delivering on their promise with the arrival of “Finish Line,” a high-octane, by-the-seat-of-your-pants rock n roller that thrust their music and name into the stratosphere. Equally dazzling was the big-budget music video, filmed on location at Flamboro Speedway with a strong female empowerment narrative set against an energetic stock car racing backdrop. “Cuz you’ve got my attention / So move in my direction / Show me what you’ve got in mind / You know you’ve got permission / The key to my ignition / So baby take it for a ride / You make your move / Get me to the finish line.” And how can we ignore the drone footage from that video, capturing Tim up in the bleachers, shredding his axe through the solo – each and every frame of that moment an exercise of text-book “perfection.”
Sizzling across the airwaves all summer long and beyond, thanks to heavy rotation on the SXM dial, “Finish Line” kept fans satisfied through the end of another pandemic-filled year. The momentum did not fade, however, as the band released two new singles in rapid succession to start 2022, first with their simply gorgeous “American Songwriter” winning slow-burner, “Anymore,” and most recently, the EP title track itself – composed by Chelsea and inspired by a Tom Petty quote about how his favorite way to listen to music was while he was driving. “That statement summarized how I’ve always felt about music from a young age,” Chelsea reflects. “When I would listen to music in the car, for some reason it always sounded better driving with the windows down. I sat down one day with a guitar and started writing the song with Tim’s voice in mind and the perspective of someone who has been weathered by life on the road and being away from the one he loves.” Having been privy to a recent acoustic performance of this track from both lead vocalists at ‘The Steel Town Round,’ Tim comically added his two cents to the tale, stating that he was sure Chelsea wrote it with him in mind because he’s the oldest.
The band pay homage to their own origins with “Something About You,” one of the two previously unreleased tracks, and itself another nice slow burn of a tune that would not sound out of place on a 90s country revival playlist. “Something About You is about the experience of suddenly seeing an old friend in a new light. We envisioned the story as someone having a drink at a bar, and seeing a friend walk in,” the band share. “The character suddenly notices their friend’s charisma and allure, and is instantly struck by a wave of new emotions about that person. Their eyes lock, and the character wades through surprise, confusion, awe, and disbelief before finally understanding that this ‘thing’ may have always been there.” “Cuz I know there’s something about you lately / Whenever you walk in a room it changes / And I’ve got a feeling you don’t even know it / But baby, something about you has got me going.” “Musically, this song started to really come together with the addition of Chris Altmann’s swooping pedal steel, and with some nods to Crimson and Clover, Pet Sounds, and other 1960s pop. We had a lot of fun recording this song and getting some inspiration from a well we don’t frequently draw from.”
Closing this EP (or pausing at the end of the first side, if you are a ‘glass half-full’ kind of person), The Redhill Valleys refuse to exit quietly. While “Desperate Times” does not have the liveliness and pace of “Finish Line,” this overtly political track packs quite a punch – accentuated by those dials on the amps being cranked up once more for extra emphasis. “The song came together for us really slowly over the span of more than a year, I think,” offers Tim. “It started out kind of tongue-in-cheek about the desperation we felt as musicians trying to fight for survival in a constantly evolving – or devolving – industry.” Matt’s kick drum dictates the tempo, as do Danielle’s acoustic riffs and Tim’s electric guitar rings, dabbling a little in some bluesy Neil Young territory – while Chelsea comfortably flips the reverb switch to add some echo-tinged vocals to the mix.
“We never set out to write a ‘political song,’ but I don’t know any songwriter that came out of the last two years who didn’t feel compelled to say something about it,” states Chelsea. “The verses were written throughout the pandemic, which really influenced the message and how we were feeling at the time – anxious, angry, and frustrated at the people “in charge” and that imbalance of abuse and power.” “Smoke is rising in a burning sky / Where cities fall and when the fever’s high / There’s something warning you deep inside / Like sovereigns in the wind / Another smiling face when the camera’s on / Selling crooked lies ‘til the truth is gone / And then try to point the blame while the guns are drawn / Oh, but the word is out.” “We tried not to have many references to specific events or people, but the song was ultimately inspired by the global political and cultural climate of the last four or five years,” Tim adds. “Horrific discoveries of the remains of Indigenous children at Residential Schools across Canada, a never-ending parade of gun violence, natural disasters, the climate crisis, divisive politics, racially motivated police violence, big lies and propaganda, attempted insurrections, and of course, the Covid-19 pandemic were all themes swirling around during the formation of this song.”
This EP demonstrates what many of us have known all along – that The Redhill Valleys are teetering on the verge of breaking into the big league. And no matter how you personally choose to classify their music – country, blues, folk, rock, or any combination – they have found a welcoming audience within the Americana music family. Better yet, given their Hamilton roots, let’s make that the Canadiana music family – a tag which, for the language nerds our there, defined as “materials (such as historic documents and artefacts) concerning or characteristic of Canada, its civilization, or its culture” (source: Merriam-Webster). In fact, I’m quite eager to paste an image of The Redhill Valleys alongside Canadiana in my own copy of the dictionary, in the best interest of recording such a claim for posterity, you understand.
“Travel Well (Pt. 1)” is a phenomenal compilation of tunes, proving totally worth the long and arduous wait – and begs the question, is it time for “Pt. 2” yet? I’m asking for a friend! Honest!! “Cuz you got my attention / The key to my ignition… / You make your move / Get me to the finish line.” The band embark on their first UK tour later this month, before returning to Canada for more performances across three provinces. Check out the flyer here in this article to see if they are heading to a town near you, and miss them at your peril. “No more fighting, no more feeling / Try to reason with myself / Another night, another demon / Another bottle off the shelf / Forget the life that you and I used to live before / And be someone who isn’t going to love you anymore.”
Photo Credit: Andrea Hunter