SXSW showcase reviews
Reviewed by Doug Freeman, Fri., March 19, 2010
Catherine MacLellanVictorian Room at the Driskill, Wednesday, March 17
There was something appropriately disconnected to the setting of Catherine MacLellan's set inside the Victorian Room at the Driskill Hotel. The staunch full-length drapes billowing down the walls and enormous picture windows reflecting out upon the opening-night frenzy of Sixth Street struck a contrast to both the clear purity and calm, understated delivery that belies the power of MacLellan's voice and songs. Whereas 2008's sophomore album, Church Bell Blues, struck with a poignant intimacy, last year's Water in the Ground provided a more freewheeling folk swagger, and it was the latter side that shone Wednesday night. Kicking off with the easy lope of "Take a Break," the Canadian singer-songwriter hearkened Gillian Welch, with guitarist Chris Gauthier playing electric Dave Rawlings to her acoustic strum. Gauthier's tones wound richly around MacLellan's crystallized vocals, whether cutting low blues or in delicate trill on tunes like "Isabel's Song." Balancing the turn of nostalgic yearning with a self-determined independence, "Water in the Ground" and "Sparrows" were subtly enveloping, with an Emmylou Harris conflation of strength and grace. Perhaps most remarkable is the sheer effortlessness with which MacLellan and Gauthier unravel the songs, pinnacled by the rousing closer of "Set This Heart on Fire."