Sunday, 29 March 2015


CD Review

The Ghost In Our House (and other stories)

When it comes to knocking out albums Merry Hell's third with 15 tracks gives you your money's worth and if you are a fan of folk rock then it's your birthday.

Merry Hell
Merry Hell, created in the North West, is a band made of excellent musicians who populate their songs with intriguing lyrics. Who would have thought you would find Captain America, Star Trek's Scotty and hanging from the gallows in the same song?
If there is one criticism with this album it is in between the times when you get the real sound of Merry Hell come through, there are several tracks where they sound so close to other bands; the Levellers, Oysterband, Bellowhead, Fairport Convention, Show of Hands and the Saw Doctors that they get a little lost. This of course puts them in good company but what's missing is a uniform and signature sound throughout. One of MH's great strengths is their incisive, cutting, witty and thought-provoking lyrics which are often missing from many folk songs of late. Right from the title track you get great lines such as "It's not death we fear, it's mediocrity".
If you listen to this album and don't feel moved by the words or have your conscience pricked by their sharp and precise observations about the human condition, then you really should be listening to Barry Manilow.
Neil McCartney's haunting fiddle opens Leave A Light On, it holds perfectly under the wonderfully harmonious voices of  Andrew and Virginia Kettle and John Kettle adds the final strand with his crisp and defined string play.
MH obviously enjoy playing with words when a track such as Summer Is A-Comin' opens with lines such as "the rubber ball of hopefulness is bouncing once again". The upbeat Morris dancing-ish melody picked out on the fiddle mimics that image and the tune does hop along being pushed by A Kettle's gutsy singing.
The Baker's Daughter is undoubtedly the song which gives MH an identity. Once again the lyrics are sharp, witty and the two Kettles throw them out and knead them into shape  like the subject of the song.
Virginia Kettle
There are numerous Biblical references strewn throughout Human Communion which is a call to arms for us all to realise we are all part of the human race and if one of us hurts we all hurt. V Kettle's voice gets let off the leash a little more here and her fine singing can certainly hold its own.
The title The Old Soldier tells you this is their tribute to the heroes of the Second World War but it is also a historical journey through Britain's violent past as well as making the point that we have still not found a way to settle our difference without bloodshed.
Rage Like Thunder is a real conscience pricker asking the question of where are all the idealists who protested during the student days and had so many ideas of bringing a better world. The driving beat with the two Kettles believing that the fires of idealism still live inside many of us, let's hope they are right.
Bringing in a banjo is always a good idea and V Kettle comes in over the top in Love Is A Game. This is another track where you get a feel that MH have stamped their hallmark and it again includes those snappy lyrics which they are so good at.
Pillar of Society is a commercial sounding track with the rock beat from Andy Jones on percussion, there is a nod to the folk side where you can occasionally hear the fiddle over the throbbing beat.
This is followed by, No Money, which is sure to be picked up by other bands and it sounds very much like something Billy Bragg would bang out.
It's a great track which sums up many people's plight and points the finger firmly at the bankers and those who hold and control the purse strings, in an almost punk rhythm.
Hey Scotty! is fantastically witty song with the great lines delivered beautifully deadpan by V Kettle, "I'd love some money in the bank, and I'd love a perfect nose, would Captain America care to dance with this wild English rose. But I ended up with a pig, with his surgical support and his ill fitting wig.."
Merry Hell's new album
It does have a feel of a busking song and is fresh, vibrant and guaranteed to bring a smile to anyone's face with the light dancing sound of the fiddle in the background, and with the occasional gem thrown in from the banjo.
Out of My Mind sticks out a like a sore thumb, it doesn't feel like any of the previous tracks and the Kettles' voices take on a stronger more gravelly texture in this country sound. It's a snappy tune and a real toe tapper but it doesn't carry any of the sharp lyrics of its predecessors.
Feed Your Soul does carry on the tempo of the previous track and does sound very much like a Levellers track.
MH take out this album with, No Place Like Tomorrow, which is among the best tracks on the album with the Kettles harmonising perfectly yet again for this gentle ballad. Again this is another track which couldn't be mistaken for anyone else but MH.
MH are essentially a live band and it must be one of the hardest jobs in the world to convey the energy and sheer raucousness they can produce on stage, but this will give you more than a flavour of their skill and liveliness and should spur you on to see them on stage.

The Ghost In Our House is out now on Mrs Casey Records and available through the band's website and the usual download outlets.

Merry Hell play the Cottage of Content, Chasetown, Staffs on May 8.