Following on from the debut album ‘Simon Fowler’s Merrymouth’ released in 2012, the band return with their second album ‘Wenlock Hill’. Now simply known as ‘Merrymouth’, Ocean Colour Scene band-mate Dan Sealey once again joins Simon in the line-up and welcome Adam Barry to the ‘Merrymouth family’. The album itself also features a number of guest musicians, notably Chas Hodges (Chas & Dave fame) and John McCusker contributing once again (principally on violin).
As a massive fan of Ocean Colour Scene who has always enjoyed Simon’s folk orientated songs, I invested in the debut Merrymouth album. Whilst I was not disappointed in the debut offering, for me personally ‘Wenlock Hill’ is a more polished fusion with multiple music genres reflected throughout. The album is full of highlights, or ‘rays of sunlight’, as I prefer to think about songs and title track ‘Wenlock Hill’ opens the album with Simon’s vocal sounding fantastic as ever in this uplifting opener that sets the scene for the album as a whole.
Within a few plays I found myself humming and singing along to most of the songs on the album and no more so than second track ‘Salt Breeze’. Insanely infectious, ‘Salt Breeze’ is a catchy fun song about a skipper, a skeleton key and some interesting animal passengers on a boat. WTF? I know this may sound somewhat bizarre but with the talented musicians “on-board”, this one sounds great and is possibly the track of the album. ‘Blink Of An Eye’ is the first of the Dan Sealey penned songs featured on the album and is a beautiful reflective song with Simon singing “I ‘m getting old, feeling the cold and you’re still by my side”.
It’s fair to say, similar to OCS where Simon enjoyed a creative and fruitful relationship with Steve Cradock, his Merrymouth relationship with OCS member Dan Sealey continues to blossom throughout this album. Indeed, having caught Merrymouth on their current tour, I was taken aback by the complete musicianship of this man and in particular his heavenly arrangement and rendition of the Stone Roses’ ‘I am The Resurrection’. Backed by the piano, the vocal harmonies sound terrific and lead perfectly into the next track ‘That Man’. A song about an ordinary man, ‘That Man’ is anything but ordinary and with a Beatles-esque psychedelic feel, the music and lyrics conjure up some dark images but I love it! ‘Teashop Serenade’ is another cracker with the horns helping create a delightful jazzy sound reminding me of Split Enz material from the early 1980s.
The album also features a cover of the Stranglers ‘Duchess’ and ‘He Was A Friend Of Mine’ – a chilling stripped back, haunting song about the assassination of John Lennon in New York. The mood is lifted with ‘If You Follow’ and closes with the intriguing ‘The Ragged Spiral’. Credited to both Fowler and Sealey, the dreamy and fuzzy feel compliments the reflective lyrics as Simon sings “tonight I ‘ve tried everything twice…the ragged spiral’ and leaves the listener wondering ‘what comes next?’ I have to be honest and say the first time I listened through the entire album I half expected a hidden track to follow, but perhaps the message if there is one is: ‘what comes next for OCS as a collective?’
For some fantastic songs (and stories as well) catch Merrymouth on tour now. For a special treat check-out the London show with Scottish sensation Pete MacLeod in support, you will not be anything but impressed!