Catherine MacLellan Was Moved by Gillian Welch, Ani DiFranco, and Greg Brown
Few Americans are familiar with the beautiful voice, poetic lyrics, and memorable folk songs of Catherine MacLellan, who records on Bruce Cockburn’s True North label.
Some Canadians liken her to Joni Mitchell, and many revere the work of her late father Gene MacLellan, whose song “Snowbird” was popularized by Anne Murray and covered by Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Chet Atkins, and Elvis Presley.
She also covered her father’s song on her 2011 release, Silhouette, but it’s her own deep vision and unique songwriting skills that stand out on her five albums. Her most recent recording, The Raven’s Sun, was recorded in Woodstock, NY, and aimed to show her brighter side in her lifelong battle with depression.
Buoyed by her young daughter, Isabel, and her musical and personal partnership with guitarist Chris Gauthier, who produced The Raven’s Sun, MacLellan says she’s gaining an upper hand in that battle. The song “Winter Spring” points out the beauty in the changing of the seasons, and the title track is about having the confidence to find a healthy romance.
MacLellan, a Prince Edward Island native, says the best concert she ever saw was Gillian Welch and David Rawlings at New York’s Beacon Theater in October 2011.
“Their concerts are magical because there are no bells and whistles – just real music played perfectly and with heart. I love seeing two people who are able to capture the minds and hearts of an audience without any tricks.”
MacLellan says another Welch concert with Ani DiFranco and Greg Brown at Toronto’s Massey Hall in March 2000 was the most influential. It often had the feel of a folk workshop, with the three musicians performing alone and together.
“To see these three in concert together taught me that there are so many ways of taking a song and sharing it with an audience in a simple but extremely musical way. There were also a lot of stories shared on stage, and it really inspired me to do what I do now – at a time when I only dreamed about touring and making records.”
That show also featured the talents of David Rawlings and Brown’s guitar player, Bo Ramsey, whose tasty licks with Brown, Lucinda Williams, and other musicians have enraptured many audiences.
The show began with with an a cappella rendition of Utah Phillips’ “Dump The Bosses off Your Back.” Later, the three headlining musicians joined together, using improvised themes. Each artist suggested a topic and challenged the others to perform a matching tune.
MacLellan also raves about the live shows of Newfoundland folk singer-songwriter Ron Hynes, whose songs have been recorded by Emmylou Harris, Mary Black, Christie Moore, Hayley Westenra, and others.
“Ron Hynes is another powerhouse performer who shares his stories and songs in a way that is unforgettable and entirely stripped down—just him and his guitar standing alone on a large stage. He holds the whole thing down with ease and brings you into his world.”