Daring English Folk

Various Artists

The Imagined Village (Real World Records, 2008)

Lining up the likes of Simon Emmerson, Billy Bragg, Martin Carthy, Eliza Carthy, Benjamin Zephaniah, Chris Wood, Paul Weller, Sheila Chandra, The Gloworms, Tiger Moth, TransGlobal Underground, Tunng, Johnny Kalsi and The Copper Family seems like a mere fantasy, but that is exactly what The Imagined Village is all about. Daring to re-imagine, break down and remake English folk music, The Imagined Village careens headlong and hell bent on dragging traditional tunes through the modern streets of England, picking up the current flavors and textures of today’s English musicians. Now if you are a folk purist, this might not be the CD for you, but if you’re willing to jump on the genre bending, rip-roaring ride through the modern soundscape of English folk, then be prepared The Imagined Village will knock your socks off.

The Imagined Village is proof that good things happen when great musicians are left to their own devices. Opening with “John Barleycorn,” The Imagined Village band sets this traditional English tune ablaze with Martin Carthy on acoustic guitar, Paul Weller on electric guitar, Eliza Carthy on fiddle, Nigel Eaton on hurdy gurdy, and Simon Emmerson on cittern. Dipping into the exoticism of Rastafarian writer and poet Benjamin Zephaniah and the extravagant richness of Trans-Global Underground, the dub retelling of “Tam Lyn” is darkly exhilarating with guitars, bouzouki, sitar and some sizzling programming. The edgy “Death and the Maiden” with Tunng and the thrilling “Cold Haily Rainy Night” with Eliza Carthy, Martin Carthy, Chris Wood, The Young Coppers and TransGlobal Underground do more than bend these tunes – they turn them inside out!

The CD just gets better with “The Welcome Sailor,” with the lovely vocals of Sheila Chandra and “Acres of Ground,” with its folksy swing punctuated by tabla and dhol drum by Johnny Kalsi. “Hard Times of Old England” with Billy Bragg, The Young Coppers, Eliza Carthy and Simon Emmerson and “Kit Whites I & II” with The Gloworms are infectiously wonderful. The bright and sassy “Slow on the Uptake” is a hair raising roundhouse slap of pure delight with Tiger Moth. “’Ouses, ‘Ouses, ‘Ouses” with vocals by John Copper and Sheila Chandra against a sea of guitar, cello, violin, bass, Northumbrian pipes, nickel harp, drones and keyboards is a precious piece of storytelling wrapped in a compelling composition that brings the past into the futures.

I have to admit that I’m partial to these “what if” collaborations with musicians scattered across the musical map. Songs on these type of collaborations tend to be fully realized and fully executed, some tracks stretching longer than the average MBA record exec would allow. There is also the collaborative spirit that seems to shine through on these types of recording, so that the listener can actually feel the expansive joy come through in the musicianship. The Imagined Village certainly possesses that heady mix of stellar musicianship and free flowing fusion of ideas and genres. The Imagined Village isn’t just about retelling or remaking English folk – it’s about glorious reinvention.

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