Sons of Maxwell

Sons of Maxwell
By Rachel Jagt

The sixth and latest release from versatile Halifax-based brothers Don and Dave Carroll is much more than just music to my ears. “Among the Living” is the follow-up to 1998’s East Coast Music Award nominated “The Neighbourhood”, and shows that the band has improved upon the foundation laid by earlier work – all the songs on “Among the Living” were written by Dave; and once again, the brothers are supported by a host of talented musicians, including Reese Nearing and Jamie Gatti on bass, Halifax Symphony principle cellist Shimon Walt, multi-instrumentalist Cathy Porter, keyboardist Kim Dunn, guitarist Jon Park Wheeler, and J.P. Cormier on fiddle, mandolin, and acoustic guitar.

The musicians who appear on this record combine to produce rock songs, country songs, ballads, and danceable folk tunes. It is a natural progression from “The Neighbourhood” and features more of a personal touch by Don and Dave. Dave picks up his guitar on many of the songs; and Don’s talents with harmony are evident on every track. The musical support is most keenly felt on the title track, an uplifting song about living life and finding one’s place in the world as a whole. Nearing and Dunn join Matthew Foulds on drums and Kevin MacMicheal on electric guitars to fill out the sound. A chorus of “Rise Ups” sounds like a choir as the song draws to a close. Tim Feswick is back again to produce this and several other tracks; he shares producing credits with Dave Carroll and Jon Park Wheeler.

“So Confusing”, the engaging first single from “Among the Living”, showcases the perfect harmonies the brothers are known for – they create a deeper sound than one voice can; and they manage still to sound like one voice in two tones. “Burning Bridges”, with Don on lead vocal, is another song about life and the decisions we make. The brothers remember their grandmother in the upbeat “Mrs. Stanley”, which combines well-placed electric guitars and fiddle for a contemporary folk sound. There are also some achingly pretty love songs on “Among the Living”: “Mile a Minute”, featuring Shimon Walt’s haunting cello; “Easy Come and Easy Go”, about the regret of love lost; and “The 5:07”, a pretty ballad featuring Cormier’s gentle fiddle as a beautiful thread that weaves the verses and choruses together. One of the glowing highlights of a record full of excellent, well-crafted songs is the tender ballad “Hold On”. In it, a man in the twilight of his years speaks gently to his wife as she slips away from him.

“When the Circus Comes to Town” is undeniably the most fun of all the tracks. It describes the craziness of a family reunion with tongue-in-cheek humour. A close second for fun is the rock concert anthem “Get It Jumpin'”, a rockin’ number sure to inspire acrobatic feats on the dance floor. The scope of Dave’s songwriting talents is revealed in the number of types of songs he writes, from pop to folk to rock to country. In “So Confusing”, he writes, “I don’t want to be one of those guys who plays it safe and takes a dive.” Sons of Maxwell definitely hasn’t done that with “Among the Living”. Don and Dave have worked hard to create a unique expression of themselves for us to share; they’ve broken new musical ground here – I’m grateful that “Among the Living” made its way into my CD player…and that I can sit back and listen and hear new things each time.

Sons of Maxwell
By Rachel Jagt

I‘d heard one song by Sons of Maxwell when I ordered “The Neighbourhood”; a friend had played me ‘The Lighthouse’ very early one morning on a road trip and I was hooked by the end of the first verse. When I heard the rest of this record, I decided that I owe that friend a large number of favours for introducing me to this band. The songwriting prowess of Dave Carroll (lead/harmony vocal, harmonica) and the vocals he shares with his brother Don (lead/harmony vocal, bodhran, tambourine) form the core of the Sons of Maxwell sound; they are the elements that have made this one of my favourite CDs. Of the ten tracks, eight were penned by Dave – and it is easy to see and hear why he is fast becoming one of Canada’s most respected songwriters. He proves himself adept in the use of a variety of musical styles, from the Latin-tinged groove of ‘Pandora’ and the gentle journey of ‘These Things I Believe’ to the foot-tapping fun of ‘So Many Things’ and ‘Will You Come Home’.

Both brothers seem to have an innate sense of rhythm and make complex harmonies sound easy to create. There is nothing forced or manufactured about even one note – music obviously comes naturally to both of the Carroll brothers. There is an impressive list of supporting players on this record, including multi-instrumentalist JP Cormier (fiddle, banjo, mandolin, acoustic guitar); Stephen Macdonald (classical guitar); Kim Dunn (piano, synthesizer); and John Cumming (trumpet, flugal horn), to name but a few. The addition of so many supporting musicians, if used carelessly, could have spoiled a really good record. In this case, however, the extra instruments create deeper tones for the songs and never overpower the vocals. There isn’t one track on this record that hasn’t been on repeat in my CD player at least a few times. Of course, there are those that have been on repeat more often than others: The catchy title track opens the record – this story of societal disintegration is accompanied by an upbeat pop/latin rhythm that doesn’t seem to want to leave my head. The song brings you inside ‘the neighbourhood’ and looks back to a time when we didn’t have to lock the doors at night.

The tempo of the opening song is maintained through ‘Will You Come Home’, and is given a traditional/celtic feel in a fabulous cover of Andy Stewart’s ‘Queen of Argyle’. Don takes over the lead vocal on this one, with a growl in his voice and the love of a beautiful maiden on his mind. I’ve always loved the sound of a bodhran, and in this case, it keeps the rhythm of the song like the beating of a heart, especially in the final chorus when it alone accompanies the harmony. Things slow down for ‘The Lighthouse’, a story of the comfort that can be found in the most unlikely of places. The guitar/piano/accordion arrangement is tender and heart wrenching, but the vocals are the key here. The brothers’ voices blend exquisitely, soaring and whispering in turn. This was the first track I heard, it is still my favourite, and it still brings tears to my eyes.

The buoyant pulse of the first three tracks is picked up again in ‘Pandora’, a cautionary tale about a man in over his head. It has a great bass rhythm that is overlaid with horns and guitars to create a seriously danceable tune. The song builds to an almost angry final chorus and fades away as the man convinces himself that running is the only option. The record continues with a radio-friendly pop tune, ‘So Many Things’, and the heartfelt ballad ‘These Things I Believe’. Track 8 is another highlight – the ultimate summer party song (when you’re sitting at the cottage in the summer or when it’s winter and you wish you were sitting at the cottage)! ‘Oceanside Again’ makes you want to rant and rave and misbehave, if only for a weekend. Summer will live on in this song, long after the snow flies. The only other cover on the record, the get-up-on-your-feet ‘And We Danced’, also features skillful harmonies – and it really sounds like they’re having fun. ‘Prospectors’ is the last track on the record; and this haunting historical ballad is the perfect final song for the collection. Dedicated to “all those who, like the prospectors, act on faith in themselves and raw determination”, ‘Prospectors’ is a tribute to two men who made history in the Carrolls’ hometown of Timmins, Ontario at the turn of the century. Dave takes on the voice of Ruben D’Aigle, who had claims on, but failed to find, what would become one of the richest gold mines in history. Don joins him for the chorus and takes the lead in the second verse as Sandy McIntyre, a Scottish immigrant who found gold but died in relative poverty. As the final notes fade, you get the feeling that you’ve been part of something very special, if only for a short time. That would be my only complaint about this record – there should be more of it.

Until the new record (due out next year) is released, I would urge you to try to catch this band at one of their live shows. Based in Halifax, the brothers spend a fair amount of time on the road. Dave skillfully handles all the guitar work when they play live, and Don’s percussion is always spirited and lively; it is a testament to the talents of both brothers that they sound as good live and on their own as they do on this CD. They have energy and charm that are merely hinted at here.

Sons Of Maxwell
Concert review: Ottawa, ON – September 16, 2000
By Rachel Jagt

When I heard that Sons of Maxwell were coming back to Ottawa, where they got their musical start, I booked a flight and the thought of not going never entered my head. I’ve never seen the band in a venue this big – and I was worried that the intimacy of a pub show would be lost when the capacity crowd of 600 crammed the dance floor. I need not have worried – the theatre was great, the sound was great, and the performance exceeded even my most lofty expectations. Judging by the crowd that surrounded Mom and Dad Carroll (the parents and biggest supporters of Don and Dave Carroll, who drove down from Timmins to see their boys play) at the merchandise table during every break, I wasn’t the only one who thought so.

Local boys Steven’s Grove opened the evening, taking the stage and tempting us out onto the huge dance floor with catchy melodies and infectious charm. They played mostly cover songs, with a few originals thrown in. By the time they were done their short set, the dance floor was beyond packed. The sell-out crowd welcomed Sons of Maxwell as long-lost friends who were finally coming home. The tone was set for the rest of the show when brothers Don (vocals, bodhran, tambourine) and Dave Carroll (vocals, guitar, harmonica) launched into ‘Rocky Road to Dublin’ with smiles on their faces and a bounce in their collective step. The buzz of electricity flying around the room was evident from the moment the band took the stage – and it was amazing to watch them feed off the energy.They were joined for the show by bassist Reece Nearing, drummer Julian Marentette, and keyboardist Kim Dunn. I’d never seen the full band before and was impressed by how professional it sounded. The keyboard was a great addition – I hope to see it at more shows.

The band played two generous sets – each was a combination of original works, traditional tunes, some popular pub songs. We were also treated to a sneak preview of a few songs from their upcoming CD, set to be released in the spring of 2001. If songs like “Mrs. Stanley”, “The 5:07”, “So Confusing”, and “Burning Bridges” sound half as good on the record as they did on Saturday night, these boys are going to have hit after hit on their hands. Dave dedicated one of the new tunes, a pop song about unrequited love and cars called “Lady From L.A.”, to a fan who flew in for the weekend from Los Angeles just for the show. She was one of many out of town guests at the show; and from what I could make out, not one of us regretted making the trip. The first set included Sons of Maxwell originals and fan favourites “Will You Come Home?”, “So Many Things”, “The Lighthouse”, “Pandora”, and “Sixteen For A While”. I didn’t think that “The Lighthouse”, a heartfelt ballad, would translate well with such a fun-loving audience; but I’m sure that mine weren’t the only teary eyes in the house when that one ended. On traditional sailing songs “The Last Shanty” and “The Leaving of Liverpool”, the audience erupted with singing and dancing. A peppy cover of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” rounded out the set.

The impression we were left with when the band took a short break was that they were having as much fun as we were – and pouring everything that they had into every song. For me, the highlight of the set was a beautiful interpretation of Harry Chapin’s “Mr. Tanner”. This story of a man whose music “made him whole” is a fan favourite which will be included on the upcoming re-release of the bands 1995 effort “Bold Frontier”. Dave took the lead, doing justice to Chapin’s sentimental lyrics; and as Don sang the role of Mr. Tanner, the emotion came from somewhere very deep inside.

Dave’s “Free To Be” opened the second set – and got us clapping and dancing again. The audience showed its appreciation during “Maggie” by helping out with the singing and rhythm – not that it was needed. There were no ballads during this set; from a happy cover of Deep Blue Something’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” to the final notes of the crowd-pleasing party song “Oceanside Again”, I don’t think I had a chance to breathe. When Dave and Don sang “I’ve had a great time/the weekend’s been so fine/and I’m sad it has to end”, I was not alone in agreeing with them.

Thunderous applause followed them off the stage and drew them back up for two encores, where we heard their upbeat interpretation of Ron Hynes’ mournful “Sonny’s Dream”, Spirit of the West’s “Home For A Rest”, traditional favourite “Drunken Sailor”, and Stan Rogers’ “Barrett’s Privateers”. On the last one, the crowd surprised the band by starting the song before Dave could get to his mic – it was an amazing blend of hundreds of voices. During “Home For A Rest”, the entire floor was heaving with the crowd – I thought we were going to end up in the basement! There were reports from the bar that half-full pitchers of Keith’s were spilling.

We weren’t the only ones moving, though; Don was jumping up and down and running around the stage, a beaming smile on his face. Warms the ‘eart, it does, to see both performers and audience having the time of their lives! Thunderous warm applause said a final farewell as the band left the stage. I for one could have danced all night – and couldn’t seem to wipe the smile off my face. It was a great show – and I’d make the trip to Ottawa again in a second. I expect big things from this band – they’re talented musicians and songwriters, and spirited, passionate performers. Please do yourself a favour and see them if you have the chance – you have my personal guarantee that you won’t be disappointed!

Sons Of Maxwell
Concert review: North Bay/Sudbury, ON – December 8/9, 2000
By Brenda Morrow

Sons of Maxwell, a Halifax-based band, made their return to North Bay and Sudbury, Ontario on December 8th and 9th. Sons of Maxwell were in the midst of a Northern Ontario tour that started in Cobalt on December 7th and finished with two sold out shows in Timmins on December 15th and 16th. Both the North Bay show (at Nipissing University) and the Sudbury show (at Laurentian University) were held in theatre-type auditoriums.

The Sons played to a “small, but mighty” crowd, as quipped by Dave Carroll, who, along with brother Don, are the front-men of the band. On this tour, Don (vocals, bodhran, percussion) and Dave (vocals, guitar, harmonica) were backed up by Reece Nearing (bass), Dave Burton (drums), Cathy Porter (keyboards/percussion) and Jon Park Wheeler (acoustic/electric guitar). The band performed two sets featuring songs from their existing five CDs and several new songs which will be included on a new CD, to be released in the spring. The first set opened with “Free To Be” from the Bold Frontier CD (itself to be re-released in early 2001). The Sons performed a handful of traditional songs, such as Rocky Road To Dublin, The Leaving of Liverpool and Farewell to Nova Scotia, that had the crowd clapping along with the beat. The first set ended with Pandora, another audience favourite from The Neighbourhood CD The second set opened with Dave appearing by himself on stage. After joking that the rest of the band had had a fight and had left, he introduced a song that he wrote, called Hold On. I can’t describe adequately the beauty of this song. On both nights, people in the audience were moved to tears. It is truly amazing what a performer can do with a great voice, touching lyrics and a guitar. This is one of the songs that will be on the new CD.

The other new songs included Mrs. Stanley, Lady From L.A., Burning Bridges, So Confusing, The 5:07 and Working Man. Another highlight of the shows was the Sons’ version of “Mr. Tanner”, a Harry Chapin song. The audience was also treated to three “seasonal” songs: Mele Kalikimaka (Hawaiian Christmas), Go Tell It On The Mountain and Christmas At Home (a Sons of Maxwell original). The second set ended all too quickly – on both nights the band was called back for an encore. If the band hadn’t mentioned that they were having technical problems, the audience would never have known. Sons of Maxwell put on a very professional and entertaining show for all those who attended. And I’m pretty sure that they made some new fans in the process!