Sons of Maxwell,
Among the Living
(self-produced, 2001)

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 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 bassist Reese Nearing, 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 the new album, 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 Halifax Symphony principle cellist Shimon Walt; "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. The brothers Carroll 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.

[ by Rachel Jagt ]
Rambles: 21 July 2001

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