Gene MacLellan’s not a name this writer is familiar with but mention two of his songs, Snowbird (a hit for Anne Murray) and Put Your Hand In The Hand (covered by just about everyone including Elvis and Johnny Cash) and it’s a fair bet that most folk will have a memory of hearing these. MacLellan was a Canadian who recorded four albums in the seventies but it was his writing skills that attracted the likes of Chet Atkins, Loretta Lynn, Joan Baez and Bing Crosby to record his songs.
MacLellan died in 1995 while his daughter, Catherine, was only in her mid teens. She has gone on to become one of Canada’s foremost singer songwriters and here she pays tribute to her dad with 13 songs of his which she delivers with an obvious affection. The songs flow from the album with a sensitive nod to the decade in which they were written with their mellow country rock roots evident but the playing and production are bang up to date. There’s some Southern grit here and there along with inventive rearrangements of his best known songs.
Opener Pages Of Time lopes along with a fine country lope recalling prime Willie Nelson while the following If It’s Alright With You is a fine ensemble piece with B3 organ, fiddle and snarly guitar breaks adding up to a very good country rock song, think of Emmylou Harris back in the seventies. Thorn In My Shoe continues in this vein with the addition of pedal steel while Just Wanna Be Loved By You and Won’t Talk About Love delve below the Mason-Dixon line with some excellent swampy sounds. Elsewhere MacLellan wanders wonderfully through the songbook, at times plaintive and folky, sometimes more gutsy.
The Call finds MacLellan sharing vocals with her fellow Prince Edward Island artist John Connelly as she thought that the words and rhymes didn’t suit a “female only” version and she also offers her own interpretations of her father’s two best known songs. Snowbird features MacLellan on her own playing Wurlitzer keyboards, the song stripped back to its essentials allowing its sentiments full rein. Put Your Hand In The Hand is given a dramatic makeover with MacLellan singing over the acoustic guitars of JP Cormier and Dave Gunning, the melody and Gospel feel still evident but with less of the bible tent bluster the song has gathered over the years. Here it’s more organic and tied into a more bluegrass like tradition.
A labour of love perhaps but a fine re-imagination of a somewhat forgotten songwriter