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Merry Hell Merry Hell
Album: Bloodlines
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 13

"Bloodlines" is Merry Hell's fourth album release in five years, a most impressive output by any standards, but especially so when you consider the quality of their work and the fact that all of their material comes from within the band. Indeed, they are blessed with an abundance of songwriting talent in the form of three members of the Kettle family, Virginia, John and Bob. This latest album also features excellent writing contributions from fiddler extraordinaire Neil McCartney and keyboard player Lee Goulding.

The title "Bloodlines" reflects the family ties within the band , in that three of the band are brothers [Andrew, Bob and John Kettle] and that Virginia is married to John.

Whilst Merry Hell have always had a political edge to their music, "Bloodlines" is, perhaps, their most overtly political album to date, although within its thirteen songs, there are a fair proportion of songs about personal relationships as well.

Merry Hell are a great live band and they successfully capture the excitement and energy of their live shows on this new album.

The opening "We Need Each Other Now" is a clarion call for unity in troubled times, which sets the agenda for the rest of the album. In the title track, "Bloodlines", Virginia muses on how we are inheriting the characteristics of ancestors and how we are "all bound together".

Mandolinist Bob Kettle has a wonderful way of writing rousing anthems, of which "Come On England" is a prime example. No, it isn't a call for our somewhat underperforming national football team to do better, it is, in fact, a call to defend our democracy "for equality, justice and community" and is a great live number.

Back in February 2016, I attended Merry Fred's "Concert for the Refugees" at the beautiful Nordic Church in Liverpool. The most moving part of the concert was when Merry Hell sang, a cappella, Bob Kettle's "Coming Home Song" about the all too real plight of refugees fleeing war to find a better life. Each of the band's vocalists took turns to sing a verse and many of the audience in the candlelit church were moved to tears. This [sadly] topical song now appears on the album for all to hear and be moved.

On a similar theme of escape from an oppressive regime is "Over the Wall", a traditional-style song by Virginia which tells of a jailbreak by workers who were imprisoned for striking for better pay.

Virginia writes some extraordinary songs, none more so than the wonderfully poignant "When We Are Old" [about looking into a future of undying love] and the retrospective "Under the Overkill" [about looking back on a love affair and hoping that it will not end]. Both are equally outstanding reflections on love.

Neil McCartney makes his Merry Hell songwriting debut with "Chasing a Bluebird", a delightfully melodic, country-ish number which mentions seven different species of birds, including the eponymous bluebird!

Lee Goulding also earns a songwriting credit [with Virginia and Bob] for "Man of Few Words", a lovely ballad about a man who find it hard to find the right words to express his love. The song employs a similar structure to Tim Hardin's "If I Were a Carpenter".

Virginia comes up with another epic song for the album-closing "Sweet Oblivion" in she imagines what she would do on the last night on earth [answer: dancing and kissing !]. This apocalyptic hoedown features a fine, Richard Thompson-esque electric guitar solo from husband John [who also did a extremely fine job of producing the album].

"Sweet Oblivion" is another live favourite and brings another stonkingly good album from Merry Hell to a suitably satisfying conclusion.

PS can't wait to see their, by now, traditional Christmas show at Grateful Fred's in December!

Peter Cowley