For the uninitiated, Merry Hell are a self-styled folk-rock behemoth; their nucleus derived from former members of The Tansads and has been supplemented by a number of worthy alumni including Neil McCartney, Dave Swarbrick, and currently his nephew Simon Swarbrick. Since their inception in 2010 they’ve been a roistering mainstay at many a folk festival.
Let The Music Speak For Itself, is a weighty collection of the ’story so far’ from this band’s six album back catalogue. The 28 tracks were democratically compiled by fans and friends, and have been grouped thematically rather than chronologically; thus achieving the band’s stated aim of replicating the dynamics of a live performance.
The album showcases the broad abilities of the band; the opening track is a studio version of Drunken Serenade with high energy and voluminous ’f-rock’ studio production. A contrasting live recording of the very same song appears at track twenty-seven in an acoustic mash up with the Banshee Reel; both versions demonstrate the flexibility of their musicianship in each setting.
Between these bookends, the songs presented traverse a broad emotional range from the reflective (Pendle Hill) through self-acceptance (Loving the Skin You’re In) and towards national positivity (We Are Different, We Are One and Come on England). The voices of Andrew & Virginia Kettle which find effortless harmony are infused with the forthright essence of their ’proud Wiganese’ origins and bring authentic humour and innuendo to songs such as Violet and also The Baker’s Daughter. The arrangements and production space allows every single instrument to be heard and appreciated around their vocals.
Since returning from Cropredy a while back, the song Bury Me Naked has been a constant earworm, and the twenty thousand other swaying folks in that audience would surely agree that this waltzing ditty is a stand-out track; a message of anti-materialism and encouragement to appreciate life’s true gifts conveyed via typically witty lyrics. It perfectly captures the rousing irreverence that makes this whole Merry Hell collection such a joyful listen.
If it actually turns out that hell is located in Wigan, it promises to be a merry eternity there.Angela Stock
Released on Merry Hell Music on CD and digitally 12th May 2023
1. Drunken Serenade
2. Let’s Not Have a Morning After (Until We’ve Had a Night Before)
3. Loving the Sin You’re In
4. Bury Me Naked
5. Lean On Me, Love
6. Rosanna’s Song
7. Stand Down
8. Let The Music Speak
9. We are Different, We Are One
10. The Coming Home Song
11. Nobody Knows Me
12. Over the Border
13. The Baker’s Daughter / Soldier’s Joy Live
14. Pendle Hill
15. We Need Each Other Now
16. Come On, England!
17. There’s a Ghost In Our House
18. Leave It in the Ground
20. Man of Few Words
21. The Gentle Man
22. Three Little Lions
23. Rage Like Thunder
25. When We Meet Again
26. No Place Like Tomorrow
27. Drunken Serenade (inc. The Banshee Reel)
28. Emergency Lullaby