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Southern Tenant Folk Union

The Chuck Norris Project (Johnny Rock)

By • Feb 27th, 2015 • Category: long players

Concept albums cover some fairly diverse subjects – Alan Parsons’ bizarre musings on sci-fi and pyramids, Willie Nelson on divorce, and Jan and Dean on, er, rain.
However, for their sixth long-player, this Edinburgh-based Americana combo have taken things to another level, at least on the surface, by theming their release around the films of Chuck Norris.

It’s not quite clear how main Tenant Pat McGarvey is going to present this curious idea until you read the release notes, which state that there’s no car chases, explosions or karate chops. A bit of a shame. Seems that, instead, the band have picked out film titles and used these as inspiration for the music and lyrics – in fact, this whole ‘concept’ was inspired by a 2012 campaign video by the actor urging fellow Americans to vote for Republican Mitt Romney.

Those familiar with the work of STFU (geddit?) will know their love of Americana and bluegrass, and indeed might be concerned about the potential for a complete change in direction with the chosen theme – indeed, the press release does cite John Carpenter and Isaac Hayes as inspiration for the album.

They need have no fear – and those expecting an all-action soundtrack channeling mindless dumb violence may be disappointed – as it seems to be pretty much business as usual. ‘Delta Force’ is as smooth as anything can sound with banjos leading the way, albeit a little jiggy. ‘The Octagon’ by contrast is a downbeat slice of Americana, just as you might expect, while McGarvey’s accent is more Paolo Nutini than Garth Brooks (thankfully).

The theme does allow for a nice line in ambling folkishness with its lyrical themes – take ‘Slaughter In San Francisco’s musings on the horrors of American school shootings. But any angry politicking is lost in what’s a pretty amiable collection of country-tinged tunes. And that’s where this album falls down – it’s just a bit too nice for its own good.

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