STUART FORESTER – The Good Earth (Melonstone MLNR002)

The Good EarthSince we last heard from Stuart Forester he has endured tragedy and moved to Scotland from where he sometimes posts photographs of his new life and where he recorded his second album, The Good Earth. If you loved A Yard Of Ale as much as I did, you may feel some trepidation now. I admit that Stuart’s new record sat on my desk for a while waiting for me to pluck up the courage to play it. I can tell you now that he has lost nothing and gained much in the intervening years.

The opening track, ‘Born In A Blizzard’, takes us back to his home town of Hull. It has a retro sound with big guitar enhanced by Jonny Hardie’s fiddle and a jazzy/blues feel that comes from somewhere in the 60s. As before, Stuart keeps his arrangements simple – he plays dulcimer and keys as well as guitar – and also has Carol Anderson’s fiddle, Davy Cattanach’s percussion and harmony vocals from Rhiannon Campbell’s harmony vocals but nothing is overdone and the songs are where they should be – front and centre.

At first glance ‘Dead End Road Signs’ would seem to originate in America’s rust-belt but add in Stuart’s accent and it could equally be about the Yorkshire coalfields. ‘Red Brick Ballads’ is about “any street” but you sort of know that it’s about Hull and ‘Say Goodbye To Your Grimsby Lass’ proudly announces its roots in the fishing industry. ‘JJ Ride That Horse’ is definitely set in the USA but take away the coyotes and it could be describing life in the Scottish highlands. Stuart seems to enjoy ambiguity and double meanings.

Take the north London Irish song, ‘London Pride’, a wonderful tale of a session. The title could simply mean the sense of belonging in a community like that but it also refers to the beer. Then again, it is a story from Stuart’s past and implicitly references his late wife, Karen. Once again Hardie’s fiddle sets the scene and if I had been charged with sequencing the album I would have closed with it instead of the rather downbeat ‘Colorado Days’. If that’s the only criticism I can come up with you can be sure that there’s not much wrong with The Good Earth. And there’s much more for you to discover for yourself.

Dai Jeffries

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‘London Pride’ – live:

MERRY HELL PREMIERE NEW ‘LOVING THE SKIN YOU’RE IN’ VIDEO

Merry Hell feb14Merry Hell have released a new video and download single to tie in with their forthcoming spring tour.

‘Loving The Skin You’re In’ is taken from the folk-rock outfit’s critically-acclaimed second album ‘Head Full Of Magic, Shoes Full Of Rain’ (Mrs Casey Records) which saw them land a series of high-profile festival dates in 2013.

Filmed in part at Flecky’s Tattoos in Wigan and Standish Unity Club, the video takes a light-hearted approach to emphasising the powerful message of the song’s lyrics: ‘be yourself, no matter what’.

Singer/songwriter Virginia Kettle, who oversaw the concept, explains: “So much has happened to the band since we made the last video. Our musical journey has taken us into a second album, live festival appearances down the length and across the breadth of the country; little gigs, big gigs, radio interviews, friendships forged with legends such as Dave Swarbrick, Gordon Giltrap and Mike Harding.

“Everywhere we’ve been, however grand or humble the venue, we have met such inspiring people, from amazingly talented musicians to those who make incredibly weird and wonderful things: real ale, jewellery, wines, breads, cheeses, ice cream! People of all ages, sizes, class and creed, all with their stories written on their faces, in their eyes, in their deep love of music.”

The video features friends the band have made during their current career and in their previous incarnation as The Tansads.

Virginia adds: “We all agreed that we wanted it to try and create a ‘festival of diversity’ so we invited some of our most colourful and unique friends to help us. From the moment they all turned up, we knew they were going to be just brilliant.

“It’s a mixed group of people with a shared intention: to let the commercial world know that the air-brushed puppet with the perfect mannequin smile doesn’t really do it for us anymore.”

Finally, Merry Hell have also announced the recruitment of two new members, multi-instrumentalist Neil McCartney and bass player Nick Davies.

Neil, best known as a fiddle player, is a long term associate of several Merry Hell members and has lived and made music in London, Galway, Dublin, New York and Thailand. He formed Big Geraniums, who enjoyed success on the global festival circuit, playing alongside the likes of The Wailers, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan.

Nick, formerly of Sound Marshals and Jesus In India, replaces outgoing bassist Andrew Dawson, who has left with the band’s love and best wishes due to external factors.

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Artist Website: www.merryhell.co.uk.