A Scottish purging of emotions and a remembrance to honour women who’ve been lost.
I love a good concept album and “Heal & Harrow” is certainly one of those. The project is a collaboration between Rachel Newton and Mauren MacColl and is a tribute to the women who were accused in the Scottish Witch Trials. Exploring mythology, folklore, religious beliefs and the supernatural, it is an album that isn’t going to be an easy listen. Think ethereal and dense Highland folk and you are on the money.
The album switches between vocal and instrumental tracks but at no time does it lose its dense atmosphere. Every song feels steeped in history and the beautiful Scottish vocal delivery, the harp and the fiddle lead the way. Some songs such as “Eachlair” and “Cutty Sark” have their lyrics or spoken-word passages taken from historical texts. Often, that could sound a bit stuffy but the prose on “Cutty Sark” for example is laid on a bed of kalimba. Quirky pocket pianos and found sounds pop up across the album too such as the haunting “Judge Not”. This multilayered approach to sound design – merging the traditional and the outside world – enriches the general mood. Sometimes, it reminds me of 3D audio storytelling. It is subtle but really well put together.
Alongside the gorgeous rich fiddles, guitars, harps, vocals and viola are writings to go with each song and a sister website with more stories from the Scottish Witch Trials to read and explore. The music does stand up on its own though. The Celtic charms of a dark fiddle led melody in “Isobel” is bewitching. The cinematic drama of “An Teine” brings fire and a final walk into death to life. The tense but ethereal “Da Dim” has a foreboding quality to its jig. Even the lush traditional ballad of “Figure of Clay” has a darker hue in every string bowed.
It might not quite scratch the itch for those of you looking for bountiful Gaelic jigs but that’s not what “Heal & Harrow” is for. This is a stark and humble offering to the women who were burned as witches. It is respectful, mournful but also strongwilled and strongminded. Heal & Harrow have made an album that shuffles complex emotions around with ease. Deceptively clever and rich with ideas and heritage – this is an album for all Scots to be proud of.
Recommended track: Lilias
Support Higher Plain Music
Higher Plain Music is part of the Higher Plain Network – a one-man indie media project. If you like what I do, please consider supporting me via Patreon for as little as $1/£1 a month. In return, you received additional perks for supporting me there such as behind the scenes content and free downloads. You can also donate using PayPal. Sharing the website helps too or using the affiliate buy now links on reviews. I receive a few pence per Amazon sale. All your support will enable me to produce better content, more often. I’d love to make this a full time media network and your support can make that happen. Thank you.