Southern Tenant Folk Union “What Would You Give for a Leader with Soul?” (Johnny Rock Records, 2016)

Southern-Tenant-Fol-Union-2016On the “What would you give for a leader with soul?” EP the Southern Tenant Folk Union continues to blend bluegrass and a first folk revival sound to produce four heartfelt songs of protest and questioning. There’s more than a touch of “With God on our side” about the title track – that’s ok, Dylan got the tune from “The Merry Month of May” via Dominic Behan’s “The Patriot Game”. Folk singing – that’s recycling in operation. There’s no need to guess where the questions it poses comes from – so, you say that you’re tired of career politicians with no convictions, so here’s your challenge: will you vote for a politician offering a New Deal for the future? There’s more than a smidgen of doubt that people will follow through on their good intentions “when you’re so used to lies, do you think you’d even know ? / Your mind’s filled with fear, just want to live and let live”. Along with the questioning there’s a call for collective action “if it was so easy then all would do well by themselves” – together, stronger. That’s a message that never gets old.

The surprisingly bouncy “Join Forces” compares two lives “One goes to night school and one goes to college / Both may be intolerant – both have bomb making knowledge”. Sectarian divides and parallel lives with parallel outlooks “their future plans secret – but they do like to travel / both have a burly commander – equipped with a shovel”. If there’s a jollier sounding song with wittier lyrics out there about unthinking hatred then I’ve yet to hear it, but the message is delivered all the better for this. We may have heard it before in many variations of “what are we fighting for?” but that doesn’t make it any less worth asking. And there’s a similar, more direct, statement of the weariness and waste of conflict on “To The War”.

There’s a full album coming soon from Southern Tenant Folk Union – but the pounding “How Many Lies” won’t be on it – which is a good enough reason to pick up this EP right now. If the previous songs might be criticised by some as showing political naivety then Pat McGarvey here demonstrates that all they were doing was avoiding cynicism. The truth of how politics too often works is acknowledged on “How any lies” with “We understand that we must compromise / but also how much influence money buys”. The four tracks that make up the EP are a perfect blend of message songs and a fabulous mix of bluegrass and folk with wonderful harmonised vocals – they trip along at a fair clip and linger long in the memory.

Author: Jonathan Aird

Sure, I could climb high in a tree, or go to Skye on my holiday. I could be happy. All I really want is the excitement of first hearing The Byrds, the amazement of decades of Dylan's music, or the thrill of seeing a band like The Long Ryders live. That's not much to ask, is it?

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