Catherine MacLellan,
Water in the Ground
(True North, 2009)

Water in the Ground is two CDs, the other sleeve carrying Dark Dream Midnight. The latter is singer-songwriter Catherine MacLellan's first recording, privately released in its original incarnation. It accompanies this, her third and most recent.

There is much to like here: MacLellan's, er, dark and dreamy voice, the lovely melodies set in tastefully uncluttered arrangements courtesy of a small band of sympathetic pickers. The title song is among the prettiest tunes I've heard so far this year, so lovely that I am inclined to stop whatever I'm doing each time it comes drifting through the speakers. It's too good to serve as mere background music. Much of the rest isn't far behind.

MacLellan, who is somewhere in her 20s if one can judge from her photos, has attracted a good deal of flattering attention in her native Canada, where she is almost always compared to a young Joni Mitchell. In other words, she conjures up fond memories of that time long ago when Mitchell was thought of as a "folk singer," even if in prosaic fact her only tie to the folk tradition was her acoustic guitar. In those early songs it was not always clear to me whether Mitchell was hippie-precious or adult-wise beyond her lightly numbered years. As I have heard "Both Sides Now" and its companions (most of all "Urge for Going") in the decades since, I have learned the answer: the latter. In fact, I didn't really understand "Both Sides Now" 'til I'd lived a whole lot more than I had when it first floated into my callow youthful ear.

The songwriting on both Water and Midnight is perfectly able at what it is, which is confessional, romantic and modestly -- certainly not fatally -- precious. It is of its years, but not wise beyond them. If this is not folk music in any sense that I understand the term (music having some discernible link to the tradition) -- not, really, that that matters in any weighing of its merits -- it is, undeniably, for the young. It's for that time in your life when love's hope consumes all. That's the time before the world has crowded in and left a whole lot less room for either love or hope.

Though I'm not young, I still believe in love and hope, but the faith is a more skeptical and chastened one. The songs that I find meaningful are the ones by singers who, having looked at love and life from both sides now, are trying to make sense of what's left. No doubt about it, Catherine MacLellan is a talent worth watching. I don't doubt either that if you're around her age, you'll want to do more than watch; you'll want to listen and, most likely, you will be entranced. As for myself, I think I'll wait to hear what MacLellan has to say a few more years down the road.

review by
Jerome Clark

15 August 2009

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new