Wed, Aug 20, 2014.
Sometimes you just have to strip everything back to basics. That's what Catherine MacLellan has done on her new album, The Raven's Sun. For MacLellan, that's the words, the tune, the guitar and the voice. When it becomes as simple and strait-forward as possible, that's where she shines.
MacLellan tours often, but on a small scale, just her and lead guitar player Chris Gauthier, also her personal partner. Two voices, two guitars, and the intimacy and power MacLellan brings to the table with her easy, warm voice and personal lyrics. She and Gauthier have been honing this style, and for the new album she wanted to present that as close as possible. So, with Gauthier producing, they set up in an acoustic setting in Woodstock, New York. Most of the numbers here are in that form, with a little bit of electric guitar. The rest of the cuts feature stand-up bass, from Remi Arsenault of Moncton's Backyard Devils, and a bit of fiddle on three cuts. She's even released the new album herself, bypassing the record company route she's used in the past. No clutter, it's straight from Catherine and Chris to you.
The intimacy extends to the production and sound of the disc, the main reason Maclellan chose the Woodstock studio, known for its acoustic warmth. The instruments sound great, Gauthier winding little solos and licks around MacLellan's chords. And the audio quality of her voice is a key element. Emotional, a little blue but hopeful, certainly heart-tugging, she draws you in, setting you up for lyrical moments of power. "You can stop time," she tells us. "But no-one ever said it would be easy." If anything, there are more positive moments on this album than in the past, less heaviness, and MacLellan has confirmed that she feels stronger personally, and doing well in her lifelong struggle with depression.
That has come out in several songs that speak of her connection with nature, as she is a very rural person at home in PEI. Her song Winter Spring details a snow day, the good feeling of a late winter storm keeping the family at home for the day, and also the knowledge that spring is soon coming, it's only a short delay. Beneath The Lindens, with its Appalachian fiddle, reflects on growing up with her solitude sought outside in the trees. In Rushing Winding Wind, she sings, "I feel a surge of spring within my bones, it's changing everything I've come to know," another sign of her emergence into more light. MacLellan is still reflective in her songs, but now with more strength and hope for the next phase of life.
Catherine MacLellan's music has always been beautiful, touching and personal. The intimate nature of this new album heightens that, and her new-found optimism makes this, well, of all things, a feel-good Catherine MacLellan album. She's on her way to New Brunswick pretty soon for album launch gigs, coming up Friday, September 26 at the Charlotte St. Arts Centre in Fredericton, and Saturday September 27 at the Sanctuary Theatre in Saint John.
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Bob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).