Malcolm MacWatt originates from the Scottish Highlands but his musical identity is not wholly defined by these Celtic roots. As he explains, “I’ve had a lifelong love of American music and culture. At the same time as those US influences were coming through the TV and radio I was also being steeped in Scottish folk tales and traditional music.
The album’s closing song, North Atlantic Summer is a celebration of the geological connection between Scotland and America. This ‘Trans-Atlanticana’ slant is reflected in the fact that the album was recorded in London and mastered in Nashville. It also is evident in the choice of guest artists.
The collection opens with a united we stand protest song, Avalanche And Landscape featuring Texas-raised folk singer Jaimee Harris on backing vocals. As with Laura Cantrell’s singing on The Curse Of Molly McPhee and Elisa Carthy’s contribution to The Miller’s Daughter, these distinctive female vocals are not particularly prominent.By way of contrast, in My Bonny Boys Have Gone, Gretchen Peters is given a solo spot to give voice mothers left behind.
The other notable guest spot is given to Scottish guitarist Kris Drever who plays on John Rae’s Welcome Home, a song about an Orkney-born surgeon who explored northern Canada and whose heroic exploits are now largely forgotten.
MacWatt’s own history lessons are founded on the principle that actions have consequences or, as he puts it in Ghost Of Caledonia, “time forever judges what we do”.
From a US perspective, Letter From San Francisco is a cautionary tale of a son who seeks fortune in the gold fields but is forced to admit to his mother that he was fatally distracted in pursuit of this ambition.
In Trespass, MacWatt shows a healthy lack of respect for wealthy landowners and he reveals a dark sense of humour in imagining a young child terrorised by a Banjo Lullaby.
The album’s title is explained by the fact that “Nations were built by people seeking a better life and it is easy to forget our own ancestors were all settlers and immigrants at one time.”
As well as being politically astute, the humanitarian songs provide valuable insights into the past. The guest vocalists could have used more effectively to give equal weight to women’s experiences but this music with a message still manages to skilfully combine education and entertainment.
Malcolm MacWatt’s website