Canadian singer-songwriter Molly Brown is the real deal: a gifted vocalist whose striking phrasing matches the lyrical twists in her well-constructed compositions. Arguably, like other artists who manage to not only capture but hold an audience’s attention, Brown’s greatest strength is her believability. She doesn’t merely play and sing; she inhabits her songs, infusing them with a sense of intimacy and immediacy. Listening to her debut EP The High Road, fans will feel invested in both the record’s stories and Brown herself.
The High Road, as its title suggests, is an elegant EP, an artful mix of folk, country and pop that centers on the peaks and valleys of relationships. The songs explore the consequences of remaining stagnant and the rewards associated with moving forward. The six-song collection is smart and accessible, a charming record with enough bite to keep it interesting.
Brown’s own path leading up to the recording of The High Road is winding and well-worn, born out of an early infatuation with music. She began composing songs as an adolescent in Toronto before following her dreams landed her in Boston. As a student at Berklee College of Music she discovered and honed her sound. After graduation she eventually made her way to Nashville and threw herself into the artistic community by collaborating with other songwriters and playing rounds.
Given her own journey, it’s not surprising that so much of The High Road contains travel imagery that mirrors the pain and hope experienced by the record’s narrators. Brown enlists a team of talented veteran musicians and Berklee alumni consisting of Elton Charles (drums, percussion), Smith Curry (pedal steel, lap steel, banjo, dobro), Joe Fox (electric guitar and background vocals), Nick Foxer (background vocals), co-producer Hunt Hearin (keys), and Gavin O’Broin (bass) to bolster her expressive vocal delivery. They expertly evoke the devastation and beauty of the figurative and physical landscapes in Brown’s songs.
In the gripping album opener “This Town” Brown uses the extended metaphor of a desolate locale to represent a couple ensnared in an unhealthy relationship that will inevitably result in destruction. “We’ve been digging our graves since the day we first met,” she acknowledges bluntly, later noting that if the emotional standoff continues “Someone’s gotta run/Someone’s gonna get gunned down.” By refusing to assign blame for the relationship’s demise to either party, Brown offers a nuanced portrayal of why the couple is unable to call it quits despite being at an impasse.
Frank admissions abound on The High Road. Pensive ballad “He Ain’t Gonna Call” includes a quietly wrenching confession of regret. On the the title track, the audience learns that the narrator’s refusal to expose her ex’s skeletons isn’t a magnanimous gesture. Instead, it’s an act of survival with a side dose of revenge: “I know how much it kills/To watch me let go/Head out on my own/And take the high road.”
Album closer “Montana” is a shimmering ode to love without limits. While the protagonists of “This Town” were stuck in a dead-end situation, the narrator of “Montana” discovers boundless possibilities in the arms of her beloved. Brown’s voice soars in the tender finale drenched in joyous steel guitar. Fittingly, the song’s exultant refrain could just as easily apply to Brown’s own career: “We’re gonna climb/And keep climbing.” With talent likes hers, Brown should undoubtedly reach new heights.