Since rising phoenix-like from the ashes of 90s folk-punk band The Tansads, initially through a series of reunion concerts in 2010 under a new moniker taken from the Tansads' song Separate Souls, Merry Hell have been blazing an exhuberantly joyful trail.
Effervescent live performances have, quite rightly, gained them a vast following, with successful appearances at many prestigious festivals. Already having three highly acclaimed album releases under their belts and with FATEA recently giving Come On England the accolade of their 'Single of The Year', Merry Hell's undoubted song-writing skills have also received fitting recognition.
On this E.P. release, the title song is Bury Me Naked. With words and music written by Virginia Kettle, this is a live favourite, with its breezy waltz tempo and catchy sing-along chorus it brings to mind gleeful nights at the fairground. Originally appearing on the Head Full Of Magic, Shoes Full Of Rain album, this version is a re-recording to reflect the inclusion of fiddle player Neil McCartney who joined after the release of the album. With lyrics giving us a good natured reminder that we come into this world with nothing and leave with the same it, the listener is invited to remove what is unnecessary from our lives, (extraneous shoes anyone?), and even has an ecological slant on death -
'Weave me a casket, made from old willow, tied up with string'. Listen very carefully and you might just hear the spade and bucket of gravel percussion.
A quick trawl through social media suggests that this track has universal appeal; not only to 5 year olds, who are raising eyebrows by singing it in supermarkets, but also with grandparents who have it as their ringtone (but, perversely, are terrified in case the phone rings in a public place!)
Of the remaining three songs, Sailing Too Close To The Wind, neither the Simon Nicol & Dave Swarbrick nor Stuart Marson compositions, but rather the track from the group's most recent CD release Bloodlines, with words by John and Bob Kettle and music by John, is a gorgeous, slow-paced ballad, bringing to mind the Saw Doctors at their mellifluous best.
Track three, Drunken Serenade, has some historical significance for the group. Not only was it the final track on the last, 1998, Tansad release Reason To Be, it was moreover the lead track on Merry Hell's debut album Blink & You'll Miss It and also the first song they ever played live on their debut as Merry Hell. On this E.P., however, the song is given a new lease of life. Here, the original Bob Kettle composition now not only incorporates The Banshee Reel, a traditional Irish tune vigorously delivered by Neil, but is also rendered as an acoustic version; indeed it is taken from the group's forthcoming acoustic release, Anthems to The Wind. As such, this serves as a splendid amuse-bouche, with all indications being that the main course will be an absolute cracker.
The final offering, No Place Like Tomorrow, again with words & music by the group's female vocalist, Virginia Kettle, is the last track on their third album, The Ghost In Our House & Other Stories. Opening with John's distinctive voice, before, after about one minute in, he is joined by Virginia, it is clear why their delightful harmonies have been enthralling so many. Lyrically, the song ultimately gives an uplifting, optimistic message, and showcases her accomplished song-writing skills -
'Let the fresh air of morning breathe gently down on you'
'All that was hopeless and desolate will once again flourish and grow'
Across these four tracks, the ever-developing musical skill and talent of the group shines through. Add to that the inherent feel-good factor that permeates their very being, and it is difficult to envisage anything but a further continuation of their upwards trajectory to the top echelon of folk-rock music.
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