Catherine MacLellan wasn't on my planned lineup for the first night of SXSW. But my feet were tired as tired of walking as my voice was of competing with crowds, so ducking into the Victorian Room at the Driskill to listen to a quiet singer-songwriter sounded like a great idea.
MacClellan's voice is reminiscent of Kacey Chambers, the Australian folk hyphenate who so often wins comparisons to Lucinda Williams. But MacLellan's sound is softer and more personal: Each song seemed to be about a family member, rather than broad-based themes like railroad tracks or lonely girls. One song was about her 4-year-old daughter; another, her brother-in-law; and there was one she'd written about a long-lost friend whom she'd surreptitiously received an email from that day.
Though McLellan's music is definitely pretty, nothing seemed particularly memorable to me until she sang a tune about her home, Prince Edward Island. "It's always been economically depressed," she explained as the crowd laughed. "So the young people often go away to find work… and eventually, themselves."
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Her song, "The Place I Know," is not on any of her existing albums, according to her Web site. But it's catchy. And though it sticks to her pattern of very personal songwriting, there is a universality about being drawn back to the "Place I Know." For me, that's here in Austin, the hometown I just reclaimed last summer after many years of living in New York.
But the song didn't just resonate with me. It was easily the crowd favorite of MacLellan's set.