Trio Points North’s ‘Road Less Traveled’ is an instrumental journey worth taking

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Remember the days of “American Band Stand” when the criteria for a hit song were a good beat and a catchy tune? You could dance to it; you could sing along. And serious musicians, whether jazz or classical, stayed far away from the “Band Stand” demographics.

But somewhere through time, rock musicians who picked up the electric guitar began to explore lyrical and harmonic possibilities and actually began to compose music. The results became known as progressive rock. Stravinsky meets Frank Zappa, Charlie Parker meets Joe Satriani.

The electric guitar morphed into a world with its own language, lore and icons. Bands like Yes and Rush garnered loyal followings. Artists like Jeff Beck and Eric Johnson set the standard. Shredded arpeggios became the hallmark of virtuoso technique.

If you live in this world, then debut album “Road Less Traveled” from the California trio Points North needs to find its way into your collection. This instrumental body of work soars, swells, drifts and drives through an expressive journey beyond words.

For the music lover who enjoys visiting various worlds from time to time, “Road Less Traveled” offers a hospitable destination. While no denying the metal element in the music, it provides relief from the constant percussive pulse that gives head-banger music its cliche. To the contrary, tracks like “Maiden Voyage” and “The Phoenix” deliver graceful and lyrical oases from the heavily trodden, redundant and monotonous riffs of metal genres.

Points North guitarist Eric Barnett came to music as a violinist at age 5, attending Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard programs. He gives the electric guitar an emotional depth that can’t be reached by mere technical proficiency in bending and tapping.

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Bassist Uriah Duffy adds his experience from the pop world of performing with Christina Aguilera and Alicia Keys to give the music accessibility and comfort. Drummer Kevin Aiello, having shared the stage with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, adds a soulful and diverse layer of rhythm.

But metal fans be not dismayed. “Grace Under Pressure” offers a respectful nod to Rush. Duffy and Aiello pay skillful homage to guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart. And the rhythms absolutely intensify in the band’s homage to Steve Morse with “Steve’s Morsels.”

For the Kenny G and Dave Koz listeners, Points North deftly inserts poetic phrases in “The Source” and “Sweet Solitude” to give the weary traveler respite from relentless pressure.

Aptly named “Road Less Traveled,” this album veers off from the heavy metal paths, but doesn’t abandon the gear. It encroaches onto the jazz and fusion right-of-ways, but doesn’t loiter. Points North blazes a trail that at times is on fire with the high energy needed for a hard trek and at other moments smolders with a sensitivity that lulls you into a dream world.

You can’t dance to these songs and without words you obviously can’t sing along. But you find yourself wandering off on melodic tangents that don’t necessarily have a point B. Points North explores a world of music, diverging from genres, and music pilgrims will find the miles to go a worthwhile journey.

Emily Tuttle is a freelance writer living in Minot. Her e-mail address is emilytuttle@roadrunner.com.

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