Time and circumstance are written large through this sixth release from undoubtedly the hardest working band in roots’n’rock. Given what is happening across the world on so many levels, pandemic, environmental destruction, climate change … fill in your own….the voice of common sense is all too often drowned out by politics, self- interest and profit. The media doesn’t help with its constant need to sensationalize and hype everything to the max. A sense of perspective and a touch of common humanity go a long way to understanding offering hope and much needed solutions.
You will find much of that last sentence here in the contents of ‘Emergency Lullabies,’ the most relevant, caring and positive collection of melodic optimism you’ll hear this year. Yes, there are warnings, we should be concerned, but even that message is laced with good time tunes and an invitation to sing and dance along. Come together and we can make a difference. So, enough… well, maybe, but not quite. There are some deconstructed pessimists I’ve encountered who dismiss Merry Hell, as “the band who preach.” Not my words but those of someone who’d obviously never listened to the band closely or scrutinized their lyrics. I met such an individual at one of Merry Hell’s best gigs during a very well-known festival. For that poor misguided soul, Merry Hell in fact don’t preach, their songs are above petty division, blinkered opinion and dead end thinking. Their concerts are attended by audiences who’re a diverse rainbow of personalities, backgrounds, beliefs, yet who come together in a celebration of community and love of great music. How can that be a bad thing?
The Earth which adorns the CD’s front cover is patchwork of images reflecting the concerns and content within, as such it’s the most successful of all Merry Hell’s jackets. Inside both booklet and CD come in presentation format and it’s well worth perusing the lyrics before you play the music, otherwise the subtlety of the words could wash over you amidst the tuneful stream which follows. Fourteen tracks ensue, I haven’t got time or space to deal with them individually but let’s talk about those with impact and the ability to pack a punch. Certainly ‘ Go Down Fighting,’ is a tenacious way to deliver your agenda, twin vocals wrap round an English sounding romp of sharp guitar, and hard rhythms, the spirit of The Tansads summoned once more. Equally effuse, ‘Three Little Lions,’ examines the nation’s development options from 2020 onward, this time the fiddle screams and soars, Virginia Kettle’s keen lyrical awareness reflected in John Kettle’s scything guitar work. ‘We Are Different, We Are One,’ contains the wonderful refrain ‘”We are more not less/ we are NHS,” surely a rhyme to level us all given the ever extending fingers of the Covid virus. The title track is chilling, Bob Kettle’s almost comforting tune with lyrics to warn and heed, ” a cult of denial to cover our eyes,” ” the next generation pays for our mistakes,” yet “act now, act together, it’s not too late.” David Attenborough would be proud! All of us have a choice. ‘Sister Atlas,’ follows a similar tack, an urgent celebration of activist Greta Thunberg and the way she challenges the tired order which dominates our lives.Those who miss Merry Hell’s more reflective, gentler, personal touch can revel in the simple, strummed acoustic finery of ‘Handsome Sally.’ A descending chord structure which bounces along a tale of love in later life and how emotional ties can become tighter and more meaningful with age. It’s lifted on a great fiddle line from Neal McCartney.
It should be pointed out that ‘Emergency Lullabies,’ is an all-round effort from the whole organisation, band, enablers, supporters and even those on line who contribute massed choral vocals on a couple of tracks. Curated and created during the more difficult months of the year, the results are a example of dedication, vision and resolve.
Merry Hell are a band for all times but particularly these times. Buy, listen, learn, appreciate then dance yourself silly! Welcome shiveringly excellent, English rock’n’roll.