Catherine MacLellan is the daughter of Canadian folk-pop singer and songwriter Gene MacLellan, most famous for his tune "Snowbird," a number one Canadian and number ten U.S. country hit for Anne Murray. While relatively unknown in America, the younger MacLellan is one of Canada's best-regarded young singer/songwriters. Like her dad, MacLellan plays music that's as much pop as folk, with simple, plainspoken lyrics that highlight her considerable talent for penning compelling melodies. Water in the Ground opens with two burnished love songs. The charming, jazzy "Take a Break" could be a work song or a salute to physical love; it works well on both levels, with Kyle Cunjak's playful acoustic bass and Nick Cobham's cheery electric guitar adding twinkling accents to MacLellan's blissful vocal. "Water in the Ground" is an expression of faith in the power of love to make everything right, a bluesy tune with the hint of a Cajun two-step in its rhythm. MacLellan's vocal is again warm, intimate, and elated. The torchy "Not Much to Do (Not Much to Say)" is a twangy blues number that marks the end of a relationship with a devil-may-care élan as MacLellan lays down her most playful vocal. The rest of the songs on the album are considerably more somber. The country-flavored "Set This Heart on Fire" could be a hit if it were pumped up with some big electric guitars and a pounding kick drum, which isn't to say MacLellan's laid-back version isn't impressive. It's a tale of lost love with a hint of suicide in the lyric, although the surface of the tune remains calm and detached. "Something Gold" is mostly vocal and acoustic guitar until Cunjak's bass adds some dark color to the last few verses. MacLellan sings about the end of a relationship, with a resigned melancholy. The quiet bluegrass of "Sorrows Drown" is a love letter to a departing beau, one that pretends too hard that things will work out. The melody is full of mountain sadness, and images of snow, bare trees, and sunsets underscore the emotional desolation. "Everything'll Be Alright" is a prayer for new beginnings at the end of a relationship, again with the hope that something may be salvaged, even though the singer knows the sentiment is just a way to feel better about herself.
The second album in this package is MacLellan's D.I.Y. debut from 2006, Dark Dream Midnight, ten more tunes of love gone wrong. The songs are all acoustic-based, but the production here is more folky, brighter, and less ambient. The sinister, driving title tune kicks things off with propulsive guitar and a raw vocal that piles up images of loss and anger to a quietly cathartic conclusion. "Don't Need No One" is a quiet guitar-and-mandolin meditation that comes at loss from another direction. This time, MacLellan sings of a love that makes her so miserable that she'd be better off alone, but the body still yearns for the connection the heart rejects. Her singing here is full of painful ambivalence. The heavily ironic "House of Love" examines what seems to be a working relationship, as long as neither lover looks too long or deeply into the way the situation is devolving. MacLellan's weary vocal conveys desperation and disillusion. A subtle theremin solo during the coda add a bit of peculiar humor to the track. The record closes with three moving songs that sift through the ruins of relationships that have gone bad. "The Line Between Us" wonders how much honesty is too much, or not enough, and just how much one has to give away to get something back. "February Song" conflates winter, loss, and the pain of unattainable love, while "Packed My Bags" is the kind of sad-to-leave-you-babe song that male singers are so fond of writing, but from a female perspective that doesn't brush off the emotional complexity of even a brief relationship. Most of the songs on MacLellan's album may explore emotional dead ends, but her vocals and the upbeat melodies let listeners know that the road will eventually lead to the sunshine of a better tomorrow.