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Southern Tenant Folk Union Southern Tenant Folk Union
Album: Join Forces
Label: Johnny Rock
Tracks: 12
Website: http://www.southerntenantfolkunion.com

The seventh album from the Edinburgh based quintet had a very political pregnancy and birth, written following last year's General Election and recording following the Brexit referendum, both of which inevitably seeped into the DNA, fusing with the other social and political strands from which the material's woven.

Musically, it's something of a return to their earlier roots and bluegrass sound, the latter particularly evident on the slow waltzing deforestation lament "Ash" and the sprightly uptempo, "Our Revolution It Will One Day Come", penned, like most of the tracks, by banjo picker Pat McGarvey.

Lead singer Rory Butler has two numbers, first up being album opener "To The War", a predominantly acoustic strummed, a double-barrelled attack on complicity in both conflict overseas and poverty on our own doorstep. The other, featuring Katherine Stewart's fiddle, is "Carefully Does It" ("I talk to my glass about opinions I've grown from the lies that I'm told") is, likewise, a poppier affair but, to be honest, not one of the stronger numbers.

Its concern with media lies is more obviously picked out on McGarvey's jogging rhythm "The Media Attack", which also addresses the decline of real news in the digital age, a track influenced by Love (though I'd suggest more "Da Capo" than "Forever Changes") with Craig MacFadyen's double bass run, fiddle and bubbling banjo.

Conflict rears its head again on the bluegrassy title track, Stewart providing harmonies on a song that, inspired by the Brexit fallout and anchored around mutual intolerance and civil war ("they're from the same street, they need to fight one another") essentially says it's better to work together and become better people than be on opposite sides, although cynicism rears its head as the last verse suggests that even then there are those calling the shots.

Three songs are framed as political questions. The jaunty folk-country "Were You Faking When You Kissed Her?" concerns the insincerity of the campaign trail, the equally spry Byrdsian countrified "What Kind Of Worker Do You Want To Be?" is a call for workers' solidarity while the strummed, crooning slow march waltzer "What Would You Give For A Leader With Soul?" is pretty much summed up in the title.

It's not all pamphleteering. My Grandfather's Father", written by Stewart, McGarvey and guest guitarist Chris Purcell, has a political streak, but, the first two verses harmonised unaccompanied (and sounding musically reminiscent of "A Satisfied Mind"), it recounts the riches to rags story of four generations, from power to disgrace to poverty, shifting its musical framework as it goes.

Then there's a lively instrumental suite, the Scottish-traditional sounding "Islay Crossing", courtesy of Stevenson and percussionist Steve Fivey, before things close on a personal rather than political note, Butler and Stewart harmonising on the slow fiddle and banjo waltz "Happy As We Can Be", a simple song of a relationship that's lasted the years and survived the losses, a welcome note of optimism given the general downbeat nature elsewhere.

Mike Davies