Folk, disco and Chuck Norris in band’s most ambitious album

Southern Tenant Folk Union
Southern Tenant Folk Union

January 2015 sees the release of the sixth Southern Tenant Folk Union album The Chuck Norris Project, the band’s most ambitious album to date.

On the back of it, they play The Greys in Brighton on Monday, January 26.

As spokesman James Soars explains, conceptually the tracks are named after different movies from actor Chuck Norris’ career, with each song taking the title as a starting point to discuss political ideas.

Band leader Pat McGarvey came upon the idea in autumn 2012 during the last US presidential election when Norris released a video urging voters to come out for Mitt Romney saying that a vote for Obama would lead to ‘a thousand years of darkness’, a statement he felt unhelpful to the debate.

“Musically eclectic the album remains an all-acoustic affair but takes in influences like ’70s disco, folk and soundtrack music mixing elements of composers like John Carpenter, Gene Clark and Fabio Frizzi. The album also features guest vocals from cult Americana songwriter Mike Ferrio.

“With this idea McGarvey and the band began to write and demo material to see if it would work not only as a concept but also as something musically interesting. Subsequently most of the album was written during 2013 but delays to recording meant the sessions didn’t take place until summer 2014.

“Featuring an expanded sound with orchestrated fiddle, clarinet and cello on top of the band’s regular five-string banjo, double bass, cajon, mandolin and acoustic guitars the songs each explore different subjects that expand upon the original movie title in unexpected ways.

“Also influential was the work of ’70s soul composer/arrangers such as Isaac Hayes, J J Johnson and Barry White on songs like the epic Martial Law or the relentless folk disco of Walker, both tracks using those big soundtrack stylings to emphasise and reflect the emotion of the lyrical content.

“The subjects of the songs are diverse but have subtle and common threads linking them outside of the framing device. A few songs touch on the gun laws in USA and their consequences, one being the continuing horror of school shootings (in Slaughter In San Francisco) written from the point of view of a young girl trapped in time beneath her desk. Equality is another thread linking the songs with zero-hour contracts and the need to organise labour the basis for the song Delta Force (referencing Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World caste system) and the forces ranged against it in The Octagon. Even as the songs discuss issues of social conscience it’s always done with beauty, space and clarity.

“Leading each piece of music are the compelling vocals from Rory Butler, a voice powerful and fragile, soulful and honest. He is accompanied by the thrilling dexterity of Adam Bulley on mandolin and the innovative fiddle playing of Katherine Stewart who manages to effortlessly combine elements of her backgrounds in Scottish traditional music and classical training into a sometimes beautiful and often disturbing sound.”

James added: “The band have once again taken another leap in sound, structure and tone as they marry social conscience and comment on the world around them with songs, melodies and performances that engage.”

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