Highlights: If You’ve Got The Heart, The Rights And Interests Of The Labouring Man, Labour Season
While I have nothing against modern folk artists like Laura Marling or Mumford & Sons, their music seems too compromised, too hipped-up, too safe and polished. Folk should come with a little more roughness and edge. That is why I’m more drawn to people like Mary Hampton (whose newest, Folly, is well worth checking out) and Johnny Flynn (mostly his terrific first album, A Larum). Southern Tenant Folk Union seem to work for me, too, with their addictive, authentic take on bluegrass and pub music that so expertly combines raggedness and beauty.
Southern Tenant Folk Union come from Edinburgh, and they’ve been around for some time now – the inconspicuously released Pencaitland happens to be the band’s fourth LP. On the face of it, there’s little here that distinguishes them from hundreds of others playing this kind of music: same mandolins, same fiddles and same obligatory but not overly exciting instrumentals. But the level of songwriting is, while not particularly outstanding, high enough. The songs I singled out (see highlights above) are all stellar, gutsy folk compositions – with the lazy, memorable “Labour Season” being my personal favourite. Plus, they do a fine upbeat interpretation of a Yeats poem, “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death”. The Waterboys they are not, obviously, but a good, healthy dose of literacy surely won’t hurt.
Sure, bands like this can only reveal their full power and glory in a live performance, but Pencaitland still has enough energy and tunes to warrant an engaging, rewarding listen. A fairly straightforward, but superior folk album.