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Southern Tenant Folk Union - The Chuck Norris Project

  by Daniel Cressey

published: 22 / 2 / 2015

Southern Tenant Folk Union - The Chuck Norris Project
Label: Johnny Rock Records
Format: CD


Ambitious and imaginative yet unrelentingly downbeat concept album from left-wing Edinburgh folk collective the Southern Tenant Folk Union, which takes all its song titles from Chuck Norris films

Debates about the merits of concept albums are tired, and those who maintain they can never work are, frankly, idiots. But an album songs of left-wing folk addressing social problems beleaguering modern America, all titled after forgettable movies from right-wing martial artist-cum-film-star Chuck Norris might seem a step too far for most bands. If any band could pull off this idea, it would likely be the Southern Tenant Folk Union, one of the best bands the UK has produced in last decade and one that remains criminally under-rated. Even they may have bitten off more than they can chew here however. The Southern Tenant Folk Union have had a number of line ups, centred around banjo player Pat McGarvey. They are vaguely Scottish - being based in Edinburgh - and have a distinctly American accented approach to folk, although only in the bluegrass lilt of their sound. Their subject matter, while hugely eclectic, is unmistakably British in outlook and has always strongly drawn on social issues. New album ‘The Chuck Norris Project’ does not come as a complete surprise - the band are no strangers to an outre concept. Previous albums evolved from what could be considered traditionally folky early releases to documenting the fall of an imagined dystopian farming community and interpretations of science fiction (one song takes its inspiration from ‘The Holy Machine’ by Chris Beckett, another from JG Ballard’s ‘Crash’). All of which could make them sound like a somewhat over-thought and too-clever-by-half group. But STFU have always had a wonderful ear for a song. Here is a band that could - and does - make singing about labour issues a foot-stomping thing to be welcomed by their frankly rarely-equalled musicianship. But on ‘The Chuck Norris Project’ McGarvey and co may have gone a step too far. Their playing is as tight and impressive as always. And their harmonies and arrangements are still hard to beat. But everything on this album is bent to the concept, and unrelentingly downbeat. There are almost no moments that step outside and just allow the band - and the listener - to get loose with a carefree song for its own sake. None of the songs have anything noticeably to do with Norris, by the way, except for riffing off his gung-ho movie titles to discuss gun control or labour issues. ‘The Chuck Norris Project’ is STFU’s most ambitious, most challenging, and in many ways most intriguing release to date. But it is not an easy listen. Previously the band have seemed to slip in their high concept challenges to the listener under a layer of blisteringly fun folk that could fool you into thinking they were just here to sing some songs better than just about anyone else. This album makes no such concessions. They remain one of the UK’s most interesting bands, but with ‘The Chuck Norris Project’ it is harder to make the case for them as still one of the most listenable.

Track Listing:-
1 Walker
2 The President's Man
3 The Octagon
4 Martial Law
5 Slaughter in San Francisco
6 Good Guys Wear Black
7 Expendable Too
8 Delta Force
9 Silent Rage
10 The Wrecking Crew - Pt. 1
11 The Wrecking Crew - Pt. 1
12 Invasion USA
13 A Force of One

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