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The Imagined Village (Real World Gold)

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Album Review

The Imagined Village is being hyped as "the most ambitious re-invention of the English folk tradition since Fairport Convention's Liege & Lief." Those are bold words indeed, and it would take a lot to live up to them, especially since Fairport didn't deliberately set out to re-invent the tradition — they simply adapted folk songs to their style. This album draws on a number of talents — Eliza Carthy, Martin Carthy, Paul Weller, Afro Celt Sound System leader Simon Emmerson and Sheila Chandra, and a number of others. But the point about traditions is that they evolve. Sometimes there are sudden leaps, but you can't sit down and say "I'm going to reinvent this type of music." It's all well and good to try and define the new, multicultural England, but adding sitars and dhol drums to "Cold Hailey Rainy Night" isn't the way to do it, nor beats to "John Barleycorn" (and having Weller perform a verse isn't radical — after all, Traffic did a sublime version in 1970). "Tam Lyn" retold as dub poetry by Benjamin Zephaniah might sound interesting, but it's really not a reinvention — the bridge between worlds so important in the original has no magic here. The closest it comes to success are with the ceilidh tracks at the end, Billy Bragg's modernization of "Hard Times of Old England," and the duet between Sheila Chandra and Chris Wood on "Welcome Sailor," which is effective because of its simplicity. And that's' the key — throwing in beats isn't really necessary. Often a less is more approach would be more effective (certainly on "Cold Hailey Rainy Night" where the voice alone carry ample power with any instruments and programming). Perhaps the tradition doesn't need to be remodeled into a one size fits all shape, and that being English can be celebrated by diversity, rather than trying to cram a multinational kitchen sink into an old English song. It's ambitious, but sadly, a bit of a failure.


Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '00s

Organized by Simon Emmerson of the Afro Celt Sound System, the Imagined Village project boasts an eclectic ensemble of musicians reinterpreting traditional songs through a modernist sieve. The talented cast of characters includes Emmerson, Billy Bragg, Tiger Moth, Johnny Kalsi, Sheila Chandra, the Copper Family, Paul Weller, Benjamin Zephaniah, Transglobal Underground, Tunng, Chris Wood, the Gloworms, the Dhol Foundation, and Martin and Eliza Carthy. The collective took its name from the 1993 book...
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The Imagined Village (Real World Gold), The Imagined Village
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