In her first Christmas EP released December 2021, Catherine MacLellan sang In the Bleak Midwinter, a poem by English poet Christina Rosetti.
For MacLellan, there’s a feeling that the bleak midwinter of COVID is behind us, and she signals a return to the touring circuit with a stop in St. Albert on Thursday, March 10.
In previous local concerts, MacLellan always performed at the Arden Theatre as part of the professional series. This time around the Prince Edward Island folk singer is booked at the more intimate City Arts Space in Campbell Park.
MacLellan plans to sing a few songs from Coyote, a 14-track album released in October 2019 a few short months before the music industry shut down. She describes it as a “travelogue through heartbreak, loss, and the joy of life,” after splitting up with one partner and meeting another.
“These were living songs that never got to live and breathe, and they sit so close to my heart,” said MacLellan.
Living on an island, the pandemic was well contained until Omicron hit. Even though the songstress remained physically healthy, she spiraled into road withdrawal.
“I was used to being on the road. I had never needed mental-health assistance. The first few weeks I was fine, but by July  I was in despair. I didn’t know who I was when the world shifted. I wound up doing therapy and trying to reshape my career,” she said.
Ensconced in her big, old farmhouse with its long history of music and kitchen parties, MacLellan developed a special love for the quiet life. Nowhere did she feel more at peace than writing songs at the kitchen table.
“As I get older, I’m more interested in the community aspects and what music means to people, and less about making money,” said the Juno-Award-winning recording artist.
Coyote’s songs were recorded close to three years ago, lifting the curtain on where MacLellan was at the time.
The title track was inspired by hearing coyotes howl at night not far from her house.
“There are a lot of coyotes where we live, but they are so shy I never see them. I hear them and I see their presence in winter with tracks in the snow. They’re mythical creatures, almost magical. They’re smart creatures that infiltrated my mind. They’re a bit of a trickster. The overarching theme is that there are tricksters in life, and you never know what will happen.”
Another number, The Tempest, a song based on an old Irish traditional tune, is about being adrift at sea in a passing storm and hoping you’ll get home. MacLellan makes the song a tribute to countless fishermen lost at sea while trying to provide for their families.
“The tune haunted me a long time, before I found the words.”
Emmet’s Song instead is a dedication to her teenage nephew, a young trans man who felt outcast from society and his family. When he came to live with her, she was in awe of his bravery and open heart despite the hardships he faced.
“He was a real inspiration for me. The songs I really enjoy are the ones that are not too introspective. We’ve had lots of sadness and I wanted to feel more joyful in this song.”
At the City Arts concert, MacLellan plans to introduce charts from Coyote and add a bit of nostalgia with older songs. But there’s one song audiences never let her get away without singing. That song is Snowbird, the massive Canadian hit sung by Anne Murray and written by her father Gene MacLellan.
“I never played with Dad on stage. I was too shy. It took me a long time to play his music.”
But in 2017 she released If It’s Alright With You — The Songs of Gene MacLellan, an album tribute to her late father. The album was a chart hit and generated sold-out concerts.
The rules, standards, and CD sales once governing the music industry no longer apply.
“For artists like myself, we have to perform to make a living and you have to love it. If you’re creative, you can find a way to make it through. There will always be music lovers. You just have to find a way to connect the dots. I’ve always set my sights on a grassroots audience. I’m not Adele and I’m not interested. But the whole idea is to make connections. It is a gift I don’t take for granted.”
Tickets are $28 through the Arden box office at 780-459-1542 or online at www.stalbert.ca. City Arts Space is at #105, 125 Carleton Dr.