I’m going to preempt my opening ramble by asking you to forgive me if you’ve heard me make these statements in the past, but both still ring true. The first being when I hear folks say that modern music is rubbish, and good music as we know it died years ago. Okay, so maybe I straddle that fence at times too, because while I’m not one for jumping on the bandwagon of most blasé popular music, I will quickly dismiss any case that implies there are no longer bona-fide new musical talents out there. Ask yourself where you are looking, and how much effort are you putting in to find some true gems in an otherwise sea of mediocrity? If you’re content to be guided by mainstream music outlets or streaming algorithms, well, no wonder you picked up a failing grade.
Which leads to my second, one I’ve dissected beyond the bone marrow on many occasions, that they sure don’t make good country music like they used to. Okay, breathe Martin, breathe – this one always raises the blood pressure. The answer, in a nutshell, is yes, they do. Once again, you’re just not looking in the right places, and relying on commercial country music stations to dictate your listening pleasures to you. If “pop music with an accent” is your thing, okay, but for me, that’s another failing grade when it comes to seeking out real country music. But if you’ve made it this far into my rant, well, there’s good news – sometimes you just need a little guidance, and as always, we’re here to steer your ship on an alternative musical course.
While Prince Edward Island may be Canada’s smallest province in terms of land mass, when it comes to natural music talent, this tiny eastern island packs a seriously loaded punch. I’ve lost count of how many new music discoveries we’ve made from PEI artists over the years, and still feel that we’ve barely scratched the surface. We recently made the acquaintance of Lawrence Maxwell, an emerging PEI musician who reached out to us after seeing one of his artist friends on our pages – this kind of domino effect also being a great way to discover new music – to share with us this latest single, “Back To Cape Breton.” And upon learning that Maxwell is also belting out some seriously good old-school country music, well, suddenly both of the statements I made earlier are once again relevant. And with a pinch of bluegrass and a generous dose of traditional sounds thrown in for good measure, this may be Maritimes flavored old-time country, but boy, does it ever sound great.
“The song was inspired by an annual camping trip with friends to Inverness, Cape Breton. We have a campsite that’s surrounded by poison ivy, which adds an element of danger to an otherwise comfortable expedition [where] we do a lot of open-flame cooking, swimming, beer drinking, and singing,” Lawrence shares. “This year, we weren’t able to travel over so we ended up staying at a cottage here on PEI. We did much of the same activities and realized that it’s not necessarily where you are, but rather, who you’re with. It was a blast! I wrote the tune shortly after our cottage getaway.”
From the opening seconds, the groundwork is laid perfectly, informing the listener that this is going to be a barn-burning toe-tapper that just oozes a distinct old 70s era country music charm: “Every time I’m stuck out in the rain / Every time that lightning carves the sky / I go back to Cape Breton where the mountain’s oversteppin’ / All the precious real estate that’s in my mind.” I must confess that my first impressions of this tune drew comparisons to vintage Jerry Reed, provoking memories of those old “Bandit” movie soundtracks from back in the day, but with a little more flair, a little more Maritimes seasoning in the mix. You can’t miss those driving taps of the snare to dictate the pace, the vintage country guitar rings, and a little Cape Breton fiddle which combine beautifully to give this some off-the-floor authenticity that is often difficult to capture in the studio.
Produced and engineered by Adam Gallant (Rose Cousins, Dennis Ellsworth) at The Hill Sound Studio in Charlottetown, “Back To Cape Breton” finds Lawrence Maxwell surrounded by a stellar supporting cast, notably Josh Langille (guitar/drums), Sam Langille (bass), Justyn Young (backing vocals), and Cape Breton fiddler extraordinaire, Mairi Rankin. With arrangements that pay homage to traditional country and bluegrass, we see Celtic-style fiddle trading licks with country guitar, as Maxwell’s vocals paint a picture of Cape Breton’s wondrous landscapes. “I’m going back to Cape Breton in my mind / Back to where the sun and moon both shine / It’s paradise I reckon, a fishing rod’s my weapon / Going back to Cape Breton in my mind.”
“This year, I was also nominated for my first ECMA award and sure enough the event was touted to take place in Sydney, Cape Breton,” Lawrence adds. “I recently found out that we won’t be able to attend in person, so the lyric, ‘back to Cape Breton in my mind’ found another meaning. I’m trying to remain positive about all of the restrictions. I’m able to play shows on PEI and I know the day will come when we can travel again. Until then, I will continue to fantasize and reminisce about days gone by and experiences to come.” Yet in true hippie-country fashion, Maxwell continues to “tell it like it’s folk, and sing it like it’s country,” utilizing both modern production techniques and old-school instrumentation to enhance his unique neo-traditional approach, and unite fans of both old and new country music in the process. Any doubts that there are no great new musicians making great traditional country music? Just spin this one a few times and watch those negative thoughts quickly disappear.