REVIEW : MALCOLM MACWATT– DARK HARVEST (2024)  

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`Dark Harvest`, is a new release from Malcolm MacWatt, a contemporary folk artist who mixes Americana with British folklore and the follow up to his 2021 album, `Settler`. He plays almost all the instrumentation on the album with the exception of piano, with much of the adornment being improvised at the moment of recording. 

The lyrics speak of horror, violence, and oppression. 

We are introduced to this latest release with `Strong Is The North Wind` which is a thoughtful outlook on self-government for Scotland and ensuring it`s result through an overwhelming vote but understanding the lack of trust in politicians in these difficult times. A haunting harmonica and tapped tambourine add a further wistful texture to this reflective meditation. The inspiration for `The Church & The Crown` came from the singer`s strolling along Wat Tyler Road to Blackheath Common where the radical preacher John Ball gave a sermon during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. A brooding piece with a melancholy harmonica and fiddle that seems to question as to whether society has really changed all these centuries later as we still seem to be in the grip of those in powerful positions such as the church and the State.  

`Red River Woman` is a deeply emotive number written in tribute to all the Canadian women of Indigenous heritage who have been murdered and whose bodies have washed up upon the shores of Winnipeg. A jews harp, strummed banjo and beating pulse like drum lead us in where the singer is joined by Shannon Hynes on harmonies and a mournful fiddle which adds a further poignancy to this panegyric. Multi-instrumentalist musician, songwriter and academic Angeline Morrison joins Malcolm on `Empire In Me` a number inspired by Eliza Junor, the daughter of a Scottish plantation owner whose mother was a slave. She was born in Guyana and raised in Fortrose/Rosemarkie on the Black Isle in Scotland. A moving tale of the consequences of Empire set against an almost illusory soundscape.  

Title track `Dark Harvest` alludes to a group calling itself the Dark Harvest Commandos who placed infected samples of The Scottish island of Gruinard’s soil at a Tory Party conference and at the Porton Down defence site forcing the Government to fund the expense of cleaning the island up. This island was secretly used during WW2 to test biological weapons and as a result lay contaminated with deadly Anthrax spores for decades. Chattanooga based folk/roots artist Nathan Bell joins MacWatt on this spoken word narration of this tale of environmental direct action against a complementing folk tinged audio backing. Pat McManus who was part of Irish rockers Mama`s Boys and Irish Celtic folkers Celtus adds his electric guitar tones to the Americana / Blues tinged `Out On The Western Plain` originally written by Ledbelly but widely known through Rory Gallagher`s cover.   

`Brave David Tyrie` is a stark narration with piano accompaniment from Phil Deering of David Tyrie, a Scotsman clerking at a Portsmouth naval office, who was the last man hanged, drawn, and quartered in the UK in 1782. We enjoy a dreamy offering in `The Nightjar’s Fall From Grace` a number about these birds that are sometimes called goatsuckers. A number that may well be a metaphor about struggling to be heard or recognised.    

`Buffalo Thunder` is a folk come Americana shaded tribute to James “Scotty” Phillips who is credited with saving the American Buffalo from extinction. His great, great nephew Dave Martin played Bodhran on this composition. The rhythmic toe tapper `She Told Me Not To Go` is a kind of tale of man`s continuous destruction of the environment and our natural resources.   

`Heather And Honey` is a reflective almost Celtic tinged musing on the injustice of being unable to live in the place where you were born and seeing others buying up land beyond your financial resources. As a keen archer, the singer shares in `The Last Bowman` a kind of lament to this art, sport come pastime, which was once a sort after combative skill. 

`Drowsy Maggie` begins with a kind of live traditional ceilidh before moving to a bleak tale of substance abuse which haunts Scotland`s heart these days. This album closes out on `Semi Scotsman` with what this singer-songwriter has referred to as a very personal account of how he feels about identity and what being Scottish means to him from his perspective as a mixed race Scot. A thoughtful submission shared with vocals, piano and guitar.  

`Dark Harvest` is a collection of thought provoking numbers that will evoke emotions that veer from heartache to humour and will grasp at the very depths of your soul. Malcolm MacWatt is not only a gifted musician but has a delightful varied vocal range. This is a stunning hour`s worth of stories and music that will really suck you into its depths for its duration.  

Rating 9.5/10 

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