Only the other day we offered the thought that Two Cow Garage‘s song History Now could be an anthem for the Occupy movement and now we look to another band who were described in Q Magazine as a folk band for the Occupy era. Sure enough Edinburgh based Southern Tenant Folk Union are a political animal with Join Forces, their seventh album, written following the Tory victory in the 2015 election and then recorded in the tumultuous days of June and July this year, the Brexit days. Released at the end of September it’s somewhat fitting that it came to the front of the review queue now just as we all sit pinching ourselves in an attempt to believe that the recent American election was just a bad dream.
In the wake of the concept that was their last album, The Chuck Norris Project, STFU go back to basics here, folk infused bluegrass with Celtic tints while the songs celebrate the tradition of protest from Woody Guthrie to Billy Bragg. They tackle the media, politicians and the unwitting ways we are all involved in far off wars, our taxes supporting arms exports without ever descending into polemic, the songs delivering the message without a preachy tone. In addition there’s a hefty dose of fine songs (and tunes) that simply tell a tale or weave a scene and leave the listener to decide if there’s a message there or not. Chief among these is the beautiful folky lament of Ashes, a meditation on the glory of trees, their growth and their decay and ultimately a song that reflects on the human spirit. It’s delivered with some gusto and recalls the glory days of Fairport Convention. My Grandfather’s Father opens like an Appalachian hymn before the band swing in with a definite Scots skirl in Katherine Stewart’s fiddle playing as they tell the tale of a philanderer’s bastard son. Stewart offers more traditional fare on the three part instrumental Islay Crossing with her fiddle playing ably assisted by the other players on a stirring set of airs and reels while Happy As We Both Can Be (which closes the album) is a celebration of life and growing old together.
The meat of the album is in the protest songs however, the opening To The War (one of two songs written by singer and guitarist Rory Butler, the remainder penned by banjo player Pat McGarvey) is an up-tempo diatribe against social injustice and the ways we are all inveigled into participating. The Media Attack rails against the gutter press with a driving rhythm while Join Forces suggests that opposing sides, both kind of brainwashed into their respective ideologies join together. It’s a fine idea but it’s the one song here that sounds kind of forced. There’s no faking it however on the sweet country rock of Were You Faking When You Kissed Her which addresses the two faced duality of politicians smiling for a photo shoot and then privately expressing their inner thoughts. What Kind Of Worker Do You Want To Be is a jolly romp into Wobblie (IWW) territory and they dig into sixties protest with What Would You Give For A Worker With Soul which sounds like an old civil rights anthem, Dylan crossed with Hamish Henderson. Finally, there’s the outstanding optimistic bluegrass romp of Our Revolution It Will Someday Come which reminded us of that old song We’re All Part Of That Smiling Revolution (by The Global Village Trucking Company). Totally different sound but both imbued with a hope we all need these days.
And here they are taking it to the root cause…