The East Pointers – What We Leave Behind (Proper)

Hailing from the Canadian east coast, this trio of two brothers, fiddler/singer Tim Chaisson and banjoist Koady Chaisson, with guitarist Jake Charron, give us their sophomore effort, What We Leave Behind, a strong attempt to inject some fresh vibrancy and enthusiasm into traditional banjo and guitar music.

Opener, Tanglewood borrows a little synth to create an unexpected, reflective atmosphere and slightly mournful tone but this is far from a moping tune.  It becomes a spiraling reel with a Celtic vibe that builds up to a dervish frenzy repeating a phrase over and over as it crescendos to the end of its journey.  In the warm summer dawn I listened to this one on my way to work, a perfect way to get up the energy levels.

A deliciously dark forest feel comes over the first vocal tune 82 Fires. This one has a slightly sinister backdraft to it as Tim Chaisson’s reedy, Southern drawl builds his story of doom and devastation.  The songs were written following the band’s experience of the Australian wildfires of 2016.  The depth of sound, made from laying percussion over sweeping backing vocals convey the epic scale of natural disasters like this.  Given the recent California forest fires and the current Australian dry season, this one seems all too close to the bone.

Fortunately, there’s a mood swing with a burst of overwhelming joy, courtesy of the surf-inspired Party Wave, effectively another reel featuring a sparkling banjo, singing like diamonds of morning light across the waves.  And it’s all juxtaposed by a gorgeous and impressive rhythmic changes.  Add to that this is a driving jig made for dancing, it’s a welcome relief to the previous number’s edgy gloom.

No surprise that this band’s roots are firmly in the Irish, Scottish pop culture of the early Canandian settlers.  You can hear it all over this album.  Yet it heads off in unexpected directions as the set list moves from faster traditional to more contemporary ones like Two Weeks, a simple but elegant pop ballad that would not feel out of place on the top ten alongside Taylor and Justin.  Still, Two Weeks is a sombre affair.  It talks of the heartache of maintaining a come-and-go relationship – a worker from a isolated rural community must leave his family for long periods of time in order to hold down a job in the far away city.  The lines are crushing: “Nobody warned me I’d leave there so broken, come back so lonely.”

Even more isolating is the title track, which works as a bookend to the previous tune.  In my mind’s eye I can see a man leaving his wife and family on a bus to travel across miles of long, bleak landscape to get to his job, far from home.

Miner’s Dream might just reveal what our hero was leaving home for.  It’s another melancholic revelation.  “Our story’s underground”, sings Chaisson, in this modern version of a coal miner’s hymn to the life in the black stuff.  If you care to string the last two songs together with this one, then you can see a narrative forming about the harsh and bitter life of a miner who must travel away from home to work the mines.  If you’re a fan of The Lumineers, then you’ll go for this.

If you like an inventive slant on traditional Gaelic and Celtic pub reels and jigs, mixed up with a bit of out and out pop and a good dollop of gloom and loneliness then this is the disc to pick up.  I can’t help feeling that there are one or two missed opportunities, though.  The band’s strengths come with the traditional instrumentals like No Bridge Too Far, which explodes into life with a bit of old time slapstick before folding into a classy jazz-inspired rhythm but their more modern songs, while perfectly formed, are too simple.  I wanted more complexity such as I saw in the traditional pieces.  Like with 82 Fires, I wanted this one to bring in some of those themes and really swell up into something larger than it was. Sadly, they hold back.

All the way through the disc the songs alternate between traditional and contemporary tunes.  The tag teaming, channel switching between old and new is interesting but again it felt more like a game of two halves, albeit played together, than a cohesive glue running through the album.

There’s no doubt that this band has a talent for hunting out the perfect hooks in Americana, Folk and Pop and that’s why you can listen to any song individually from What We Leave Behind without confusion.  But as a whole, it’s seems they’re in need of some editing to lift it from good to great.  With the band performing here shortly, I expect that their live show will no doubt make up for it, though, with the opportunity for less restrained jams and blending of old and new.  We look forward to it.

Tim Gruar

The East Pointers kick off their National Tour on 19 January in Woolston.  See for details