Need to know Music
A Gentle, Cross-Ocean Set of Musings, Grounded in Tradition.
The links between European and American music are long-established – Nick Tosches “Country – the twisted roots of rock’n’roll” is probably the best starting point for that investigation – and on “Settler,” Scot Malcolm MacWatt re-establishes that link, both in the tone and instrumentation, along with several high-profile guests from across the US side of the pond.
On the opening track “Avalanche & Landslide” Jaimee Harris is the first of those guests, providing backing vocals to an old-timey tale of protest regarding the effect of mass movements on affecting societal change.
“Letter from San Francisco” which follows, ploughs American Folk narrative territory with a Bluegrass flavoured accompaniment; then it’s back to this side of the Atlantic on “Ghosts of Caledonia” – both musically and lyrically, which has a Scottish musical lilt to this tale of how historical characters can affect our present – and how we’ll, in time, have the same effect.
Laura Cantrell shows up on the next track “The Curse of Molly McPhee” – it’s a timeless song of female victimisation and Cantrell’s vocals add a nicely sharp counterpoint to MacWatt’s smoother tones.
Gretchen Peters is the next guest to appear on “My Bonny Boys Have Gone,” which moves into Dougie Maclean territory – again it sits astride the Atlantic divide, being a tale of the mothers who were left behind when their offspring went off to the new world.
Eliza Carthy is the first non-US guest to show up on the album and she appears on the English folk-trad-sounding “The Miller’s Daughter;” another age-old tale, this time of forced marriage.
“Trespass”, which follows, is a Robin Hood type tale of stealing from the rich to support the poor and its unfussy guitar and backing vocal arrangement puts the lyrical message to the fore.
“John Rae’s Welcome Home” features fellow Scot, Kris Drever on electric guitar – he’s the only other musician on the album, as MacWatt plays everything else – and as well as play, Mr Drever adds a distinctive vocal contribution too, to this mid-paced ballad-esque tribute to the Orkney born explorer.
“Banjo Lullaby” is a bit oxymoronic in message – as MacWatt himself admit in his album notes, how could a banjo lull anyone to sleep?
The song itself has a gentle, rolling feel which contrasts with the lyrical tale of a drunken father who’d play the banjo at his children’s bedtime.
“North Atlantic Summer” closes things (there is one more track after this, but more of that in a moment) with a gentle account of the geological and meteorological connections between the opposing Atlantic land masses.
Things close with a spoken word over instrumentation explanation of the album
“About the songs..an oral explanation”…which seems somewhat superfluous to these ears – the album is strong enough to stand for itself without the need for this bit of extra explanatory content.
Is it too late to chop it from the release or leave it as a Bandcamp freebie?
Malcolm MacWatt has constructed a gentle, cross-ocean set of musings, grounded in tradition and commonality that will be appreciated by fans of folk-flavoured Scottish songwriting, that’s given added spice by the guests who accompany him.
Review by Nick Barber
Released 26TH November 2021
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