Having been raised in the Highlands listening to Scottish folklore and music, Malcolm MacWatt writes with a traditional style and superlative lyrics. Settler is a charming album written and played entirely by MacWatt except for the bass (Phil Dearing) and one song that features the magnificent Kris Drever on electric guitar.
MacWatt’s appealing vocals adorn every song, several of which are enhanced by an outstanding array of guests: Opening with ‘Avalanche & Landslide‘, the first guest, Jaimee Harris, brings melody and magnetism to this narrative-style protest song. MacWatt is later joined by Laura Cantrell in ‘The Curse of Molly Macphee‘. Very much in a traditional yet contemporary style, their vocals weave together in wonderful harmony as together they tell this wistful tale of love and lust.
A further delightful treat is ‘My Bonny Boys Have Gone’ with the achingly beautiful voice of Gretchen Peters. This mothers’ lament after her children fly the nest and the passing of her husband is a lovely song and another awesome duet. Peters takes the final verse herself in what can only be described as a deed of sheer grace.
Eliza Carthy joins MacWatt in the sad but spirited tale of ‘The Miller’s Daughter‘. Delicate, tasteful music accompanying Carthy’s lilting harmonies and MacWatt’s marvellous storytelling.
‘John Rae’s Welcome Home‘ features Kris Drever both vocally and on electric guitar. Drever never fails to make his mark, and this absorbing song is no exception. With his inimitable presence giving weight to MacWatt’s very own legend about this Scottish explorer, doing all he can to ensure Rae takes his rightful place in the history books.
Without a doubt, the guest artists each add their unique allure throughout, yet the other songs are not left wanting. MacWatt has such a listenable voice and brings considerable sensitivity, fascination and vision to the stories he writes. ‘Trespass‘, quite literally about the stealing of time with nature after the commercialisation of a local area, is so descriptively written. ‘Letter From San Francisco‘ is a tuneful, rootsy, honest account of squandering by a son to his mother. ‘Ghosts of Caledonia‘ is a poignant tale of Scottish forefathers, ‘Banjo Lullaby‘, a menacing saga of a fathers’ drunken banjo playing and last up is a captivating geological exploration and picturesque description of the elements of a ‘North Atlantic Summer‘.
All of MacWatt’s songs on ‘Settler‘ are perceptively written, superbly played and poetically produced, creating real visions of the times they tell and creating a whole new raft of folklore.
Perhaps setting this album apart from its contemporaries, it concludes with MacWatt narrating a musically enhanced, very brief, synopsis of each song. An unusual but very pleasing feature.