Valley Road winds through rolling basalt hills from Glenhope towards Chewton, connecting two friends, Rebecca Jane Howell and Marty Mckenna, who have been singing together for more than a decade.
They weave their experiences into songs of people and place (usually sitting around Marty’s farmhouse kitchen table), bringing an Australian perspective to their diverse folk influences.
Rebecca could sing before she could speak, and honed her instinct for harmony through years spent in the Australian Girls Choir.
Marty grew up singing to the sheep on his family farm where he still tends the flock to this day. The farm provides a perfect setting for the two musicians to explore their shared love of intricate songcraft.
The duo first met when Rebecca started an informal singing group in Kyneton in 2012.
“Marty joined the group and then we were asked to perform together for a fundraiser for the Kyneton Music Festival,” she told the Express.
“We played together sporadically over the years and loved singing together, and then we got asked to play at the Burke and Wills Folk Festival.
“At the end of our performance, the emcee and organiser, Andrew Pattinson, got up and said a few of the Troubadour Foundation members wanted to give us an award and send us to NSW to make an album with (acclaimed music producer) Rod McCormack.
“It was completely unexpected, we weren’t even a formal duo then.
“It was a big undertaking for us to go away and make this album, but we drove up and spent a week with Rod and it was incredible.
“The universe intervened!”
The first single from the album, The Wind Blew West, will be launched at Major Tom’s in Kyneton next month.
The Wind Blew West is an emotive tale of maternal hardship and strength, with a gently sprawling musical quality that simultaneously evokes wide open roads and domestic confinement.
Rebecca’s lilting vocal melody contrasts with Marty’s baritone harmonies, and is carried along by interwoven guitar and banjo, subtle percussion and bass, and some sweet fiddle flourishes.
“It’s a deeply personal song, about my brave Mama, and the dark days she went through when my dad left her while she was pregnant with me,” Rebecca said.
“I wrote it years ago, during a period of serious writer’s block, and it all just sort of poured out of me, as though it needed to be written.
“My mum still finds it hard to hear, but I think she’s also really proud of it.”
Rod McCormack also contributed guitar and banjo on the track, while the fiddle was played by Gabi Blisset of the Bushwhackers.
Rebecca said Valley Road’s self-titled debut album explored themes of rural life, connection to place and landscape, and dealing with loss and hardship.
The album will be officially launched in October but pre-release copies will be available for purchase at the launch of The Wind Blew West at Major Tom’s in Kyneton from 8.30pm on Saturday July 1.