"One of the reasons I wanted to move back home was because I wanted a better garden---the house we had in Halifax had a shaded-in yard," says Catherine MacLellan. "This has been a snowshoeing year for me. That's the culture I live in right now---skiing and drinking rum."
That culture is located in MacLellan's home province of Prince Edward Island, to which she returned to in January after basing herself in Halifax for a few years. Her "platonic life partner," Tanya Davis, had already begun to establish herself when MacLellan also made the move, and she just as quickly became part of the local music scene, playing around town and at In the Dead of Winter, and releasing her second album, Church Bell Blues, which was later scooped up and sent across the country by True North Records.
But she didn't come here to launch a career, though music is in her bones (her father is the late folk legend Gene MacLellan, who wrote "Snowbird"). She has a daughter, now three, with Al Tuck. "It was partly because of Isabel and Al being in Halifax more than anywhere else," she says over the phone on a rehearsal break in PEI. "And also Tanya. It wasn't really for music---it was just a wonderful bonus."
It's that same sense of family that took her back to the island at the beginning of the year. "All my family is here, my mom and my brother and his four kids. It's cheap to buy a house," which she did last September.
Last year she put together songs for her new dozen-song LP, Water in the Ground. "Church Bell was mostly me---I wanted to make a band album and that's what we did."
It's an observational, country-shuffle sort of record, with songs fit for barn dances and campfires, amphitheatres and folk festivals, sung in MacLellan's languid, soothing voice, backed by Rich Knox and Nick Cobham and Kyle Cunjak of Share and The Olympic Symphonium. It was recorded over four June days in PEI, plus a single session in Toronto.
"It took forever to release it. Being on True North, they have concerns that should concern me but I would've just released it," she says, laughing. "It's good to be with other people who can help you out and stuff, but it's really been a challenge for me to go from indie to working with a whole team of people and letting people know what I'm doing."
A limited edition of Water in the Ground, which hits stores March 3, comes packaged with MacLellan's hard-to-source first album, Dark Dream Midnight. "I was a little resistant to it at first, then I got excited that my old record was being re-released," she says. "I think it's pretty cool, people can hear where I was a million years ago. Well, 2003, which wasn't that long ago, but feels like it."
As debuts go, there's little to be apprehensive about. It's essentially an acoustic guitar record, but MacLellan's voice is already there, strong and evocative. She traces the evolution to other facets of musicianship, like performance and song craft.
"I was incredibly shy and inward---I was writing a lot of my inner stuff and not reaching out," she says. "But that started to change. I played in a band called Saddle River and I learned a lot about three-chord structure and really simple songs that are still personal to me."
Though PEI has an increasingly strong rock contingent in Two Hours Traffic, Smothered in Hugs and Boxer The Horse, its best singer-songwriters---Davis, Rose Cousins, Daniel Ledwell, Jenn Grant---live in Halifax, so MacLellan has had to do some adapting, which she's fine with.
"It's a totally different scene," she says. "There's not as many places to play, unless it's the summertime, on PEI. The scene here is pretty small but really well connected---I'll sing with Pat Deighan and the Orb Weavers, a rock band. The rock scene is part of the folk scene, it's really neat."
Catherine MacLellan releases Water in the Ground
Wednesday, March 4 at The Carleton, 1685 Argyle, 9pm, $20, 422-6335.