Montreal based Canadiana quartet Orchards, recently launched their debut Pilot EP in December of 2016. Comprised of members Kaitlin Smith, Rob Malo, and Jean-Michel Chartier, the band comes together to invoke a bluegrass-folk-pop feel akin to artists such as Mumford and Sons, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Coming in at a total of six tracks, the EP stands as yet another testament to the classic beauty of the combination between the mandolin, acoustic guitar, and harmonica.
Opening on a high note (literally and figuratively) with the slow instrumental introduction to the track “Hit Me Like A Wave,” Orchards set the tone for the rest to come. Their keen musicianship becomes somewhat overshadowed by subpar vocals sung in a tone that honestly doesn’t do a whole lot for me. Broken up by various harmonica breakdowns, the track is good, but perhaps a bit too cute. Naïve is not exactly the right word – and hopefully not insulting – but there is a rawness, or an uncomfortable edge, missing amidst the prettiness of the song writing.
True to the title (unless it is, in fact, a reference to this being their first album, hence “pilot” rather than the idea of jet setting etc. that the noun evokes,) the lyrics throughout the EP align perfectly with that of the prescribed genre. Tracks like “Freight Car” muse on the highs and the lows of a wayfaring life, while “Love Like Seasons” addresses the acceptance of the inevitably transient nature of love. “Kindred Spirits” recalls the difficulty of loving someone far away, and the inability to find a proper place to belong. In short, they are very much country’s answer to the blues.
While it is quite short, the Pilot EP still lacks diversity between its tracks, and as a whole falls a bit flat for me. All the tracks sound quite similar, and were best differentiated by the stories they tell, but other than that it is hard to find one track that stands out, even after many listens. I feel as if Orchards could benefit from and injection of the heart breaking rawness that is the foundation of the delta blues and, armed with this, write another record.
Written by Jordan Hodgins
*edited by Kate Erickson