Kirsty Merryn hails originally from the New Forest but is now, inevitably, based in London where the action is. She & I is her debut album; an ambitious work but also accomplished and confident.
The songs are about or dedicated to influential women except the opener, ‘The Pit And Pugilist’. It’s about Kirsty’s great-great-grandfather and isn’t as macabre as the title suggests – Tommy Mitchell was a miner and boxing champion from Derbyshire and his story roots the album somehow. Listening for the first time without paying too much attention to the lyric the song had Sandy Denny written all over it. There is something about the structure, Kirsty’s enunciation, her piano accompaniment and the opening line “Bitter the winter and petrified ground”. I was tempted to ask “what else have you got?”.
What she had was ‘Bring Up The Bodies’ and then I paid attention. The song is dedicated to Nancy Mitford, author of The Loved One, and Henrietta Lacks, who was still known by the pseudonym Helen Lane when I was at school. Look up her fascinating story for a full explanation. The song is a bluesy shuffle built around the rhythms of Tom Grashion’s drums and the multi-instrumental and production skills of Gerry Diver.
The other influential women include Lady Hamilton portrayed as ‘The Fair Tea Maker Of Edgware Row’ and Grace Darling, heroine of the ‘Forfarshire’, with Steve Knightley singing the role of her father, William. The next two are less well known. Georgina Houghton was a Victorian spiritualist and Annie Edson Taylor was the ‘Queen Of The Mist’, the first woman to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. The story of ‘Delilah And Samson’ is familiar enough – Luke Jackson sings the male part – and ‘The Birds Are Drunk’ is a murder ballad observed by an anonymous protagonist who may well be the victim’s ghost.
Diver’s production is commendably restrained but always atmospheric, leaving Kirsty’s words front and centre. She frequently takes an alternative view of a story so ‘Forfarshire’ isn’t an heroic ballad but more of a ghost story and we are left to decide whether these are the ghosts of those who perished or of Grace herself, who died a few short years later. In fact every song has lines that demand your attention – I particularly like the idea of Emma Hamilton considering a drink of the brandy that her lover was brought home in.
She & I is a remarkable debut album, packed with imaginative ideas and superb songwriting.
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Artist’s website: www.kirstymerryn.com
‘Forfarshire’ – official video: