Canadian singer-songwriter Catherine MacLellan made some inroads when True North Records re-released her second album, Church Bell Blues, at the end of 2007. Now the artist has teamed up with the label again for the release of Water In The Ground, which as an added bonus also includes her 2004 mail-order only debut Dark Dream Midnight.
Water In The Ground swings in a most pleasing fashion from the outset, with the opening Take A Break lolloping along nicely on a melodic double bass line while MacLellan’s languid vocal playfully disses an errant partner.
For the most part the album settles into a more sedate tempo after the opening track. It would be very easy to listen to MacLellan’s songs as background music, so gentle is its mix of country swing and acoustic folk.
That would do the album a disservice, however, as the playing throughout is immaculate and deceptively simple. MacLellan’s vocals may drip pure honey, but there is an emotional honesty here that places her in the esteemed company of such country icons as Emmlyou Harris and Dolly Parton. There is also a playfulness to MacLellan’s singing that hints at her love of jazz, and at times the listener is reminded clearly of early period Rickie Lee Jones.
The best tracks steer back to the folky simplicity of MacLellan’s debut album, with Something Gold and Flowers On Your Grave in particular reaching out into more personal lyrical territory as befits their unadorned status. The latter, which closes the album, essays loss and regret in a manner that avoids the cloying sentimentality of many of MacLellan’s peers.
Elsewhere, MacLellan shows she can do the carnal just as well as the spiritual on Not Much To Do (Not Much To Say) and Set This Heart On Fire (“I’m gonna set this heart on fire/It’s gonna burn so bright/Bring this wood to light”).
Water In The Ground should help MacLellan an even wider audience as it’s an album full of classy songs beautifully performed, and don’t bet against a Nashville superstar covering the odd track or two.
For evidence of where MacLellan came from, the inclusion of Dark Dream Midnight is a welcome primer. Although it loses a few tracks on re-release, the scarcity of the original makes this a minor concern.
Dark Dream Midnight is largely acoustic and performed in the minor key, lending its melancholy lyrics added weight. For all the sunshine that pokes through Water In The Ground this is an album for the early morning hours, with tracks such as Don’t Need No One, House Of Love, Until One Of Us Goes and The Line Between Us rooted in the fallout from a fractured relationship.
It comes as something of a shock to hear a distorted electric guitar squalling throughout February Song, but the constant buzz provides a musical parallel to the protagonist’s confused state of mind. It’s a bravado performance by MacLellan and one of the best tracks on a strong album.
This two-for-one offer is an ideal place to discover one of Canada’s best new songwriters. MacLellan is ready for the jump to the big stage and Water In The Ground should provide the necessary clout to allow her to make the leap.