CATHERINE MacLELLAN with RICH BURNETT and RACHEL RIES at Mitzi's Sister (1554 Queen West), tonight (Thursday, August 24), 9 pm. Pwyc. 416-532-2570. And performing with the COUNTRYPOLITANS, CAMERON FAMILY SINGERS, BACKSTABBERS, ATOMIC 7, SWAMPERELLA , PARADISE RANGERS and others as part of the Ward's Island Jamboree (Ward's Island), Sunday (August 27), 3 pm. $20. firstname.lastname@example.org. Rating: NNNNN
If musical ability were purely genetic, the tunes written by Elvis Costello's son Davey MacManus for the Crimea's awful Tragedy Rocks debut wouldn't be nearly so horrible.
Unfortunately, for every Jeff Buckley there are hundreds of Julian Lennons out there and numerous labels eager to cash in on a popular name. So the fact that Catherine MacLellan happens to be the daughter of late great songster Gene MacLellan (who gave us Snowbird, Put Your Hand In The Hand and many other tunes that are now part of our Canuck cultural fabric) doesn't necessarily mean that she'd also be a gifted singer/songwriter.
When you hear her exquisitely crafted songs unfold on her recent Church Bell Blues (Sandbar) disc, however, all the critical acclaim being heaped upon the Prince Edward Island-based rising roots music star makes perfect sense. Clearly, this is what the 26-year-old MacLellan was born to do.
"For a short time during high school I entertained the idea of studying to be an architect or an engineer," laughs MacLellan from Charlottetown, "but I think I knew from an early age that I'd be playing music. I was writing songs at the age of nine - some pretty terrible stuff - but didn't really start getting serious about it until I turned 13. Then by 14, I was writing steadily.
"Of course, my dad was a big influence. We did a lot of driving together and we'd have long talks about music. I'd bug him about his songs and tell him what was wrong with his writing based on what I was learning in school. Just seeing him every day with a pen and paper in hand and a guitar on his lap taught me a lot about what it means to be a songwriter."
She learned her lessons well. Her solo debut, Dark Dream Midnight (Sandbar), earned her best folk album and female vocalist of the year honours at the 2005 PEI Music Awards, along with a folk album of the year nod at the 2006 East Coast Music Awards.
Her Church Bell Blues follow-up is even stronger. MacLellan's delivery is more confident, and there's a newfound economy of expression.
It was interesting to see MacLellan in action at her NXNE 2006 showcase in June, just three months after its release. She was already looking ahead.
Instead of relying on road-tested material to impress the music biz types who may have been in attendance, she boldly used her set to try out some works-in-progress and impressively made them each sound like familiar classics.
"I've been going through a lot of changes in my life, which come with having a child, so I wouldn't be surprised if some of that comes through in the new songs I've been writing. The more I write, the more basic the songs get. It's been this long and involved process of making things simpler.
"It used to be that I'd sit down with a guitar every day and work on songs, but for the first three months after giving birth, I barely even touched a guitar. Now I write whenever I can get a spare moment. So if I'm driving a car and I get an idea for a chorus, I might have to pull over. Depending on the traffic, I may just grab a pencil and jot something down right there on the steering wheel - whatever works."