The Imagined Village Empire & Love Review

Released 2010.  

BBC Review

The sound of an ensemble pulling its punches. Disappointing.

Sid Smith 2010

Now de-cluttered of the likes of Paul Weller, Billy Bragg, The Copper Family, Benjamin Zephaniah and other musical worthies found on their 2007 debut album, The Imagined Village’s basic plan remains in place: match-making folk tradition with the mores of modern life via a spot of pan-cultural genre-hopping.

With a core team that boasts musicians as talented as Chris Wood, Martin Carthy, Eliza Carthy and Simon Emmerson (amongst others) you’d think that artistic success would be very much assured. Yet, as on their first record, the results are once again a mixed bag.

Given the undeniable talent of those involved in this recording, why might this be? Ultimately the album’s failure to convincingly gel rests both in the material, its presentation and a lacklustre production.

Solid, copper-bottomed classics such as Scarborough Fair and Byker Hill emerge as plodding and curiously leaden. Ewan McColl may be rightly revered but his throwaway ditty, Space Girl, could never be counted as a shining example of his oeuvre, with Eliza Carthy sleepwalking her way through the perils and pitfalls of sci-fi love amongst the spaceways. 

Martin Carthy is no stranger to imbuing pop songs with a resonance that goes way beyond the original source. His poignant reading of the Bee Gees’ New York Mining Disaster, 1941, from 1998’s Signs of Life, is a prime example. 

This time around it’s Slade’s Cum On Feel The Noize. Whereas the Bee Gees cover was a ruminative, haunting reinvention of the tune, this rendition sounds sluggish, half-hearted, and on an exceptionally sleepy-sounding chorus, unintentionally hilarious.

As with their debut album, it’s not all bad news. The lively jig of Mermaid momentarily raises the game, and the integration of electronic atmospheric during this works well enough.

But too often this is the sound of an ensemble pulling its punches. This might be forgivable with a bunch of newcomers, but when the cast as are as seasoned and as top-notch as this the results are frankly unconvincing and disappointing.

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