On Merry Hell
My friend Lesley is a fan of Merry Hell, a British band which claims it plays “folk rock with a punk attitude, indie ethos and Latino feel, plus [we’ve got] soul!” That’s just about everything covered, I think. However, Lesley first made me aware of them with the video for “The Ghost in our House,” which is decidedly weird. That’s what attracted me.
Then came Christmas, and a fantastic present winged its way from Lesley in the UK to me: the first two Merry Hell CDs. Blink…and You Miss It was released in 2011, followed by Head Full of Magic, Shoes Full of Rain a year and a half later. I started with Blink… just to be chronological, and the Kettles and company had me from the get-go. The first cut, “Drunken Serenade,” which was originally from the Tansads‘ final album (that 90’s band featured several current Merry Hell personnel), rocks out from the opening manic mandolin, through pounding drums and bass beneath the raspy and true vocals of Andrew Kettle. Nothing decidedly weird there, just hard-driving music.
There are so many other great tracks on the disc that it’s difficult to single out any for particular attention. “The Crooked Man,” a Virgina Kettle composition, is one extremely angry political song, with the white-collared criminal graphically “picking the flesh from our backbone.” “One More Day” by contrast is a delightful bit, with a catchy refrain beautifully harmonized by Virginia and Andrew Kettle (brother- and sister-in-law, FYI), about missing someone–poignant and yet fun. By far the most lovely song I’ve heard in quite some time–one that I’d die to have someone sing to me personally–is “Rosanna’s Song”:
The light that shines around you is like no other
Winter fire of January gold against the pale
And I’ve had the pleasure to go walking in your company
All along the hills of isle and dale
It’s a beautiful love song, and the first few times I played it I thought I’d cry.
On Head Full of Magic, Shoes Full of Rain, I found a number of musical winners as well–the kinds of songs that cement a band in place with a second CD. “Rosanna, Let Me In” is a remarkable song, though its intent is obviously not to be as heart-breakingly beautiful as the eponymous Rosanna’s other gift. “My Finest Hour” is a rousing complaint about the frustration of the speaker at being thwarted in his efforts to be alone with his girlfriend. Then there’s the incredibly danceable “Iron Man,” again with the amazing driving voice of Andrew Kettle (and again, a Tansads favorite). There are quieter moments on this CD as well: Virginia and Andrew Kettle duet in “Emerald Green,” taking alternate verses, then coming together in harmony, for a waltz about a couple separated by war.
I have the CDs in my car. Since I originally played them on the computer, the songs are there as well. I have not been anywhere since before Christmas without the accompaniment of Merry Hell. They have taken up residence in my head–the vocal lines, for the most part, both male and female, melody and harmony. It’s been a while since I’ve been so completely taken over by a band, and it’s both amazing and slightly uncomfortable (you try teaching Hamlet with “Drunken Serenade” as an internal soundtrack!). I’m saving my pin money, because the next time I’m in the UK, I’m forcing Lesley to take me to a Merry Hell gig, as this is all her fault.
Postscript: Some of the more rocking tunes are going to be great to have playing on my mental soundtrack come good weather, when I can get back out on that bike. Songs to Bike to 101!