When the two members of King Hannah, Craig Whittle and Hannah Merrick, were asked who they would chisel into Mount Rushmore, they replied Neil Young, PJ Harvey, Mazzy Star and Portishead. It’s a good question and it’s different to being asked who your favourite artists are. Which musical heroes deserve to have their faces carved into huge rocks and to look down on us mortals, as if they were Gods? As if they had a direct line to a well of inspiration that most of us can’t comprehend but can only marvel at. Personally, I think choosing a group as one of four answers is cheating so my answer, unsurprisingly, is Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. Maybe at the bottom there could be a subs bench with John Lennon and Van Morrison on it. The comments at the bottom of this post are waiting for other thoughts….
Craig Whittle learned to play the guitar by playing Jackson Browne songs and he first saw Hannah Whittle when she was singing at a Liverpool University band showcase. He was blown away by her spectacular voice but it was not until two years later, in 2017, when they got jobs in the same pub that they got together to form a band.
Hannah Whittle was inspired to write songs by listening to Laura Marling and Joni Mitchell and developed her current sound by obsessing over Portishead, Radiohead, Sun Kil Moon, Bill Callahan, Red House Painters and Mazzy Star.
Their early songwriting lacked the direct lyrical approach that they have now developed and many early attempts were scrapped. In 2019, they released a single; in 2021, they released an EP of six songs and two weeks ago they released this marvellous album.
I’m not a huge fan of Portishead or PJ Harvey but I can definitely detect the influence of Neil Young and Mazzy Star in King Hannah’s music. Although, if I had to name one group that they remind me of, it would be The Cocteau Twins. Not that Hannah Merrick’s voice is anything like Liz Fraser’s and the lyrics to the songs are, by contrast, perfectly understandable, but the overall effect of a dense electric guitar sound with a female voice hovering over the top, sounds similar to me.
The lyrics to the songs were not the first aspect of the music that appealed to me. Whilst I can appreciate lines like “I heard you got a lady pregnant. Well, I can only wish her well ‘cause soon you’ll have a bigger baby in the family than yourself”, it’s the unique combination of a Neil Young guitar sound (think, “Cortez The Killer”) and Hannah Merrick’s voice that makes this such a remarkable album. Nevertheless, one of the lyrical themes of the album is a nostalgic look back at childhood. Craig Whittle says “There are no intentional themes but there is a definite feeling of nostalgia and sentiment. Quite a few of the songs tend to be about childhood and memories and the warmth that they bring to us”.
“The Moods That I Get In” starts in a very languid manner but builds beautifully over nearly eight minutes with an extended instrumental break which proves that even a grungy guitar can sound beautiful.
The repetitive dream-like groove of “All Being Fine” is seductive and the song finishes much too quickly at 3:34. I could listen to a 15 minute extended play of this one chord song.
In an interview to promote the album, they were asked what one thing people could take away from the album. Their reply was “That’s up to them! Hopefully, they feel something and we just want to sound authentic and real”. In my humble opinion, they have succeeded.