The East Pointers
Album: What We Leave Behind
Label: Self Released
It was only a couple of years ago, in 2015, that east-coast-Canadian roots trio East Pointers made a great impact with both their debut album Secret Victory and a series of storming UK tour dates. So, after the band's "not-so-secret victory" on both fronts and at this year's JUNO Awards, big things are naturally now expected from Tim Chaisson (fiddle, percussion, vocals), his brother Koady Chaisson (tenor banjo) and Jake Charron (guitar, keyboards). And "what they leave behind" on that first offering is the earlier album's traces of tentativeness, especially in the song department. The new album has an altogether more confident demeanour, a bolder ambience, a beefier sound that builds on its percussive beat while continuing on further down the road of blurring the lines between traditional roots and pop musics. Indeed, on tracks like Miner's Dream, there's something of the wide-screen feel of the likes of Oysterband, U2, Big Country and Runrig in the East Pointers' epic soundscape: sweeping big-production stuff.
The tracklist is split more evenly this time round, with six instrumental tracks and five songs. On Secret Victory, the songs were the poor relation, not always convincing, whereas on What We Leave Behind they feel both better crafted and more credibly developed and sung, certainly with more than a cursory ear on commercial and radio acceptance. Topics covered embrace the approved concerns beloved of Canadian songwriters: moving away from isolated homeland communities in search of work (Two Weeks), the spirit to carry on with life in the face of adversities (Hid In Your Heart), and recounting events from local historical heritage (John Wallace, which tells of a 19th century shipwreck off the coast of Prince Edward Island). True experiences also get in on the act with 82 Fires, which was born out of the band's real-life encounter with the disastrous Australian wildfires of 2016.
Canadian-Celtic tunes are still at the core of the East Pointers' music, and there's still an undeniable panache about the banjo-and-fiddle combination in particular on sets like Pour Over and Tanglewood. Exciting, sure, but if I'm honest the pulsating, pounding beat can prove a touch relentless once you've heard a couple of tune-sets, however well they're played and however canny the invention and transitions. In the end, it's all a little too definitively rhythm-driven, and in that regard it's good that the sequence of the album allows for the effective presentation of contrast between tracks, with the result that somehow one enjoys the less beat-centric of the more relaxed instrumental tracks (like The Crossing and the languid, reflective title number) all the more.
All sounds to the good - and yet I feel the danger is that the East Pointers are now coming across like two separate bands: on one hand the brilliantly energy-fuelled musicians hell-bent on giving their audiences a stomping good time (yet at the same time with a sense of not quite fulfilling their own potential) and on the other hand the purveyors of thoughtful mainstream/stadium-mode folk-inflected rock. And for me the mix doesn't work altogether convincingly.