Canadian singer-songwriter Catherine MacLellan's third release, Water In The Ground, marks her first serious attempt at border-crossing. She is well known up north, with a loyal fan base where her last album Church Bell Blues reached #1 on iTunes Canada Roots chart. But in the US she's still a relatively unknown quantity. Water In The Ground will change that.
From the opening tune, "Take a Break," MacLellan establishes a breezy musical mood with a walking bass line setting the pace. The Spartan arrangement blends multiple styles of folk, pop, and jazz into a cohesive and comfortable whole. Her vocals combine a bluesy low soprano with a refreshing lack of pop artifice. All the tunes on Water In The Ground are originals. Her subject matter concentrates on interpersonal concerns with the presence or absence of love being her principal focus. Her tunes are infectious, but not in the obvious immediate way of most pop songs. They sneak up on you, so by the fifth or sixth listening they begin grab at your emotional coat tails like an insistent five-year-old. MacLellan's songs also have an innocence and directness that's lacking from most new music. Some of her tunes remind me of Catie Curtis's work, in that they both share an unusually advanced level of emotional honesty.
Although the album's musician roster includes eleven players the arrangements on Water In The Ground are largely uncluttered. The subdued percussion tracks and simple instrumental solos never upstage MacLellan's vocals or the tunes themselves. This is first and foremost a songwriter's album. Co-produced by MacLellan with James Phillips, who also plays mandolin on several tunes, the overall sound is suave and sophisticated, yet simple and lacking in artifice.
Her first release, Dark Dream Midnight, is included as a bonus CD. While it's always interesting to see where an artist has come from, Dark Dream Midnight serves more as a discursive diversion than an addition to the CD package. Dark Dream Midnight lacks the focus and discipline of Water In The Ground. The overall sonics are primitive and the arrangements overly busy. Water In The Ground is a far more mature and fully realized album.
Like all sophisticated art Water In The Ground becomes more interesting and resonant each time you listen. If you give it a chance its musical tendrils will completely ensnare you.