I love these two-fers where rapidly breaking artists re-debut their first release so that all and sundry can catch up. Such an instance is happening here, re-releasing Catherine McLellan's Dark Dream Midnight with her current (third) Water in the Ground, both gems of recent folk vintage and appearing on the estimable True North imprint, Bruce Cockburn's first-base stomping ground. MacLellan sometimes has a jazzy base to her otherwise folk style and, thus, has earned comparisons to Joni Mitchell, though I'm not sure I can throw in with that, as worthy as the similes are. Katherine, after all, has, to these ears, a much stronger Canadian air to her songcraft and firmer roots in the fundament. Too, Dark Dream carries distinct overtones of Leonard Cohen.
Though that older disc carries a number of session players, MacLellan's voice and acoustic guitar are way out front, laying her tales of lost love and the heart's pain at our feet. This isn't a cheerful release, but it is a masterful one, uncompromising in a lyrical litany of human beings and their many inabilities to mesh and meld, preferring estrangement and distance. Solidly folk, there's more the timeless quality to it than with Water, as we'll see, as MacLellan was far into her creative depths and struck a nerve transcending the idea of days and dates. Interestingly, House of Love carries an electronic element that reminded me of another Canadian, one long forgotten, an early experimenter: John Mills-Cockell. The entire Dark Dream release was previously only available by mail order, so bonusing it with the new disc is an advantage in more ways than one.
Water emphasizes the singer-songwriter's base quartet more, as well as a number of session players at times sketching the sound out more fully, other times laying back so the group can have its way. Echoes of Cockburn's old group, the one with Bob Disalle and compeers, waft through cuts like Something Gold, and the entire feel is of earlier days when Baez, Dylan, Farina, Rush, Paxton, and the second wave of progenitors were around. This, though much more positivistic, sort of antedates it to Dark Dream in a strangely poetic fashion.
Set This Heart on Fire contains New Orleans blues and bounce complete with bright boozy semi-martial parade bop in the drums and may well be the most contrastive cut to Dark, as the piece is a grateful tribute to an unnamed someone who brought an unspecified something to the singer's life, a door into an aspect she cherishes. Its very inspecificity, however, becomes a clever method fitting it to any occasion, though the listener strongly detects a quite earthy memory there.
By the time all the compositions wend their way to the finale, it's clear the inclusion of the early release wasn't just as a very happy bonus to the consumer but also an aesthetic contrast where the two CDs ceaselessly contrast one another, gaining luster in each listen.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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