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Catherine MacLellan - Water in the Ground

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 25 / 6 / 2009

Catherine MacLellan - Water in the Ground
Label: True North Records
Format: CD


Warm-sounding third album of country/folk from outstanding-voiced Canadian singer-songwriter and musician, Catherine MacLellan

It was in the closing months of last year that Canadian singer/songwriter Catherine MacLellan first caught our attention with the release of her second album, ‘Church Bell Blues’. With comparisons to Kathleen Edwards, Emmylou Harris and Gillian Welch many were impressed with the pureness and warmth in Catherine’s vocals. Over the twelve songs on ‘Church Bell Blues’ the Canadian proved that apart from that voice which is one that, on first hearing, will stop you in your tracks so warm, familiar and inviting a sound it is, she was more than adept at writing subtle yet inviting melodies to surround her little story/songs. The songs on ‘Church Bell Blues’ were written through an autumn and winter and that came through in the songs ; for all the warmth and familiarity in her vocals there was a chill surrounding those songs which made them all the more interesting. It’s unclear when Catherine wrote this collection of songs but there is no denying that this time the mood is a little lighter; it’s obvious that she could sing almost anything in that crystal clear pure voice of hers and make it listenable but as this collection sounds more of a band effort than her previous album one wonders if this lighter in mood yet fuller sound doesn’t suit her songs better. The album is produced once again by James Phillips. On ‘Church Bell Blues’ this talented producer also played most of the instruments on that album but this time he restricts his playing to mandolin on a few tracks. Without wishing to take any credit away from Catherine as after all it his her vocals that make this album an outstanding one rather than just merely good (and it appears all the twelve songs are MacLellan originals), his production is superb throughout. With little snatches of various instruments weaving in and out of the songs, each at exactly the right moment, Phillips is obviously aware just what it takes to turn a good song into a great song. That said, while Catherine also gets a co-producer's credit this time on every song on the album, she also co-produced three tracks with David Baxter and they are almost as well-produced as the songs by James Phillips. In fact, one of those songs, ‘Everything Will Be Alright’ is one of the best performances on the album which shows that maybe Catherine has a future as a producer as well as a musician. The warm sounds of both the mandolin and accordion that adorn this song will surround you and draw you into Catherine’s little world for the duration of the song and with her inviting and reassuring vocals you won’t want to leave in a hurry. In our review of ‘Church Bell Blues’ we mentioned that the guitar playing, for which producer Phillips and MacLellan were totally responsible for, was outstanding and almost as satisfying as Catherine’s vocals. It would appear that on ‘Water In The Ground’ most of the guitar is handled by Nick Cobham and again the playing is absolutely superb. If it is because producer Phillips has a certain talent in capturing these sounds or if it is because Catherine has been lucky so far in choosing the right guitarists for her songs is uncertain, but the way those guitars are featured in these songs is stunning. If ever an album was made for listening to in a darkened room on headphones then ‘Water In The Ground’ is the one; there are so many sounds in these songs that only truly reveal their beauty through headphones. There are so many little touches that come to life when listening to Catherine in this way ; apart from being able to appreciate all the sounds more easily you’ll feel that Catherine is in the room singing just to you. It’s a wonderful, calming experience. With the last song on the album, ‘Flowers On Your Grave’, Catherine must, I feel, have chosen to close her latest collection in the same way she did with ‘Church Bell Blues’, by making the last song a touching tribute to her late father, songwriter Gene MacLelland. It will bring a lump to your throat but as always Catherine gives hope of lighter times to come. With one of her prettiest melodies Catherine’s last words on the album are the most touching, “I won’t forget all the good things you gave us, for now let’s pretend that you never left”. Listen to one of the purest voices of this generation singing those lines and you can’t fail to be moved. With her third album Catherine has shown that the beauty of ‘Church Bell Blues’ was no accident and that she is going to be a major part of the folk / country fraternity for a long time to come. As an added bonus it appears that some places still have in stock copies of ‘Water In The Ground’ that come with a CD of Catherine’s first album , ‘Dark Dream Midnight’ which was previously only available by mail order and not that easy to obtain. So what you waiting for….

Track Listing:-
1 Take A Break
2 Water In The Ground
3 Hotel Stairs
4 Isebel's Song
5 Something Gold
6 All Those Years
7 Set This Heart On Fire
8 Sorrows Drown
9 Not Much To Do (Not Much To Say)
10 Again From The Start
11 Everything'll Be Alright
12 Flowers On Your Grave
13 Dark Dream Midnight
14 Don't Need No One
15 Journeys With You
16 Jubilee
17 House Of Love
18 Family Names
19 Until One Of Us Goes
20 That Line Between Us
21 February Song
22 Packed My Bags

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live reviews

CCA, Glasgow, 18/4/2011
Catherine MacLellan - CCA, Glasgow, 18/4/2011
In an oppressively hot CCA in Glasgow, Andy Cassidy finds Canadian singer-songwriter and folk artist Catherine MacLellan nevertheless to be on excellent form in a gig to promote 'Silhouette', her fourth solo album

digital downloads


Coyote (2020)
Following up her tribute to her father’s life and music, Canadian Catherine MacLellan releases fourteen new original songs; her first original music in six years
Silhouette (2011)
Church Bell Blues (2008)

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