Chris MacLean
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Chris MacLean

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"Music for the Soul – A Conversation with Chris MacLean"

by Lynn Stevenson

“I want to be awake,” says Wakefield singer/songwriter Chris MacLean explaining why music is not only a passion, but a necessity in her life. Without being melodramatic, she adds, “I think if I didn’t have either music or painting, I would be dead – these things feed the soul”.

Many things feed the soul of this talented artist – from the rock and water of her home in West Quebec, her dear friends, meditation or the memory of a special dog who passed away a year ago. Chris MacLean sings about peace, hope and the importance of protecting the environment.

Her pure voice channels compassion on “Nightbird,” for a man she never knew who committed suicide after a struggle with mental illness. But she says she never sets out to write about specific things: “You write what you write – what the muse gives you.”

Her efforts have earned Chris MacLean recognition with awards such as the Colleen Peterson Songwriting Award for “Feet Be Still’ and the OCFF Songs from the Heart Award in the historical category for “Sisters of Charity” – which tells the sad but inspiring tale of a Cree woman and her children struggling against racism and injustice in mid-1800s Manitoba.

Chris has had many struggles of her own in life, but music gives her hope and makes her smile. Coming home from practice with Fred Guignion (guitar), Stuart Watkins (bass) and Beth Cahill (mandolin and vocals) she describes it as one of her happiest days in weeks. While it hasn’t been easy, Chris knows that music is what she was meant to do.

Chris MacLean’s interest in music started at an early age. She composed and sang folk songs and played in a bluegrass band as a young adult before marriage and children took her away from it for well over a decade. Coming back to it in her late 30s, she was struck by narrow attitude of the music industry. Despite considerable talent, she was told she was basically too old to make it in the business. This was a frustrating aspect of the youth culture that she says dominates life here. It is not something you find in eastern cultures, where experience is honoured and respected. But Chris did not let that attitude stop her. “I guess I am just stubborn,” she says. Now at 53, with two CDs: Learn to Be Loved (2000) and Feet Be Still, (2009), many successful collaborations and awards to her credit – Chris has proved them wrong. “I feel like life is just beginning.” And for fans of this talented performer – that is a very good thing indeed.

Chris was a core member of world music ensemble GALITCHA as well as FRIDA’S BROW, which was nominated as Best Vocal Group in the 2008 Canadian Folk Music Awards. She currently performs solo accompanied by Fred Guignion and Stuart Watkins. She can be seen occasionally with The POMELOS, a collective of female songwriters; TLC (Tannis Slimmon, Laura Bird and Chris) and also as a backup vocalist with Ian Tambyln. - Spirit of Rasputins


"Learn To Be Loved ***1/2"

Ottawa Citizen
Saturday, January 20, 2001
by Lynn Saxberg

Chris MacLean

Ottawa-area singer-songwriter Chris MacLean seems to have come out of nowhere with her first CD. But you don't get this good without experience.

It turns out MacLean is a mature woman with grown children - and a long-time friend of singer-songwriter Mae Moore's - fulfilling a life's dream after facing some tough challenges.

That begins to account for the lyrical depth of her songwriting, the control of her silvery voice and the easy flow of her melodies. Producer Ian Tamblyn takes the music even further by filling it out with gorgeous instrumental textures, including a recurring soprano sax that recalls the work of Ottawa native Peter Kiesewalter, who played on many local CDs through the '90s. To my ears, it's what gives MacLean's work that cool, clear Ottawa sound.

Highlights include the percussive title track, the shimmering, lonely Out of The Blue, and the two tracks inspired by motherhood: EMA, for her daughter Erin, and Beautiful Boy for her son, Owen.

- Ottawa Citizen


"Nothing to Fear but Doubt"


Ottawa Citizen
Wednesday, March 21, 2001
by Wes Smiderle

Nothing to Fear but Doubt
Singer's dream is delayed, not dead

Ottawa folk singer Chris MacLean figures she's just about tamed all those nagging self-doubts about her decision to pursue a music career.

"It's all just shadow boxing," she says. "There are obstacles sometimes, but they're not necessarily as insurmountable as we might think."

MacLean has overcome her share of very tangible obstacles, including a lengthy struggle with Crohn’s disease. These days she’s hard at work balancing a full-time job as a Web designer for Mitel with efforts to build momentum on her budding music career.

Last year, MacLean released a full-length debut album call Learn to Be Loved, produced by Ian Tamblyn and featuring guest vocals by Mae Moore. MacLean showcased her talent at the Vancouver Folk Alliance last month and now performs several gigs a month, including a show Saturday night on the NAC’s Fourth Stage.

MacLean also hopes to start her own singing and songwriting workshops, although she describes it more as “healing” work.

“I’ll just mix and match the stuff I’ve been doing on my own that has allowed me to travel a long way personally and do things that a few years ago I would have thought, ‘Oh I’d never be able to do that.’”

Maclean sees similar reluctance in others as well. “Some people at work look at me and say, ‘Wow, I’d really love to do that.’ And I can hear it in their voice that they don’t think they can,” she says. “I can hear that because I remember feeling the same way myself.”

Although she worked as a singer-songwriter when she was younger, MacLean’s dreams were pushed aside by marriage and motherhood.

“In earlier years, I didn’t have a lot of self-confidence and, like a lot of people, I started out with a lot of ideas but not necessarily a lot of direction,” she says. “Then I got married, had kids and thought, ‘Well, I guess I can’t do that now.’”

About 10 years ago, she became seriously ill with Crohn’s disease and spent months in the hospital undergoing several major operations.

Her brush with death was a turning point. “I’d always said some day I want to be a song-writer,” she says. “I realized how stupid it was to say ‘some day.’ You gotta do it.”

Shortly after the breakup of her marriage seven years ago, MacLean got her hands on a broken second-hand guitar. She took it to the Ottawa Folklore Centre to get it fixed and was soon strumming away. It was an encounter with her old friend Mae Moore that eventually coaxed macLean back onto a live stage. The two reconnected in 1997 during Moore’s Ottawa stop on her Dragonfly tour.

“Then a couple of years ago she was playing the Tulip Festival. We were sitting there listening to the performance and she said, ‘You could do that too, you know.’ She’s been very supportive.”

Moore offered up guest vocals for Learn to Be Loved and a joint west coast tour is in the works for June. Since the release of her album, MacLean has been enjoying increasingly significant milestones. Her visit to the Vancouver Folk Alliance last month February was her first time attending an event of that size.

“It was overwhelming, but I learned a lot,” she says. “I actually did a lot of playing there.”

MacLean was part of an Ottawa contingent that attended the folk industry showcase. Aside from performing a couple of “guerrilla showcases” of her own, she spent a lot of time just wandering around and playing with fellow musicians.

The highlight of the weekend was an impromptu Saturday night jam session outside the fifth floor elevator of her hotel featuring musicians from Russia, Iran, South America and China. “People just kept coming and joining in,” recalls MacLean. “There was one woman from China playing a one-stringed instrument with a bow. We stayed up all night. It was an awesome time.” MacLean has not expectations of a big break and realizes the value of persistence in the music industry.

“Even now, there’s days where I think, ‘What the hell am I doing? I have some nerve thinking I can be a songwriter.’

“But that’s just an old tape running in the back of my mind. It has no meaning, really.”



- Ottawa Citizen


"Feet Be Still **** (4 stars)"

Chris MacLean is a singer you trust. Maybe it's her lyrics -- she's especially good at marrying interior and exterior landscapes -- or maybe it's her voice, an inviting blend of warmth and clarity.

Then again, perhaps it's the hope underpinning her music: "There's still time," she sings in Song for Tibet, her assurance extending beyond the borders of just one troubled country.

Whatever her secret, the Gatineau hills-based singer/songwriter is a balanced voice in an off-kilter world.

Most of the tunes on her second solo album are original and occasionally less subtle than they could be, particularly when touching on environmental degradation.

MacLean, a former member of Ottawa world music ensemble Galitcha, also breathes fresh life into folk nuggets like The Water is Wide.

- Patrick Langston - Ottawa Citizen


Discography

FEET BE STILL 2009
Learn to Be Loved 2000
GALITCHA - Satrang 2001,
Blé d'Inde Celebration 2006
Frida's Brow - Frida's Brow - 2007

Photos

Bio

2010 Canadian Folk Music Award Nominee for English Songwriter of the Year

“One of the things I like best about Chris Maclean’s work is its levity; even when singing the most serious song there is still a sense of light in the work. It begins with her voice which is unmistakable, clear and ethereal all at the same time. There is something too in her melodies which always return to an uplifting theme even though the song may touch upon some sorrow. And then there are her lyrics which are more often than not redemptive and positive, particularly on her new CD Feet Be Still. All in all Chris’ work seems to be about a lightness of being and grace while walking through a very complicated life. Feet Be Still.” Ian Tamblyn, Singer Songwriter/Producer

It all started with being the youngest in the family… always sent to bed earliest and not allowed to do the things that the older ones could do. This feeling of being excluded burgeoned into a need for independence, a voice, a way to belong. At thirteen, I bought a cheap guitar and became a picker and a campfire, dining hall and closet songstress. Fast forward through the years as the misfit daughter, more than one internal revolution and many other disquieting events I once again found solace and sense in words, images and sounds. Eventually an album called Learn to be Loved emerged and won some great reviews. Not ready to stand alone, the next seven years were spent playing in a band but a persistent inner voice said “Try again”. So, inspired by the spirit of a rugged landscape - granite, sky, water, fields, cliffs, snow - and the landscape of the interior, a new collection of images carved into songs has surfaced.” She writes with a need for kindness and caution in a mad world. She writes to quiet the thundering wheels of change, to soothe the ache of struggle and to simply make meaning out of chaos.

Chris MacLean is an award winning songwriter living in the hills of West Quebec. She has been recognized by the Canadian Folk Music Awards as a 2010 Nominee for English Songwriter of the Year, Ontario Arts Council as recipient of the 2008 Colleen Peterson Award for Songwriting; by the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals with the 2008 Songs from the Heart Award for Best Historical Song; by CHIN Radio in 2007 with Second prize in their annual World Music Songwriting Contest; and with an Honorable Mention in the International Songwriting Contest. Chris performs solo or with accompaniment of bass, guitars/fiddle/mandolin and percussion. She has two solo recordings, Learn to Be Loved (2000) and Feet Be Still, which will be officially released in October 2009. From 2001 until July 2009 Chris was a core member of world music ensemble Galitcha. Her work with the group included composing, arranging, performing, creating all of the promotional collateral for the group (web and print), grant application writing and much of the tour management. She recorded two albums with Galitcha. From 2005 until 2008 Chris was a member of Frida’s Brow, a roots/folk trio who were nominated as Best Vocal Group in the 2008 Canadian Folk Music Awards for their self titled debut CD. Most recently, Chris has performed with The Pomelos, a collective of female performing songwriters; TLC (Tannis Slimmon, Laura Bird and Chris) and as backup vocalist with renowned Canadian songwriter, Ian Tamblyn.