THE IMAGINED VILLAGE The Imagined Village (Real World)
As it says on the tin, “The Imagined Village is an ambitious reinvention of the English folk music tradition, embracing modern-day culture in all its diversity. Classic songs are skilfully reworked with the sounds and voices of today, updating the tradition for a new generation”. The Imagined Villagers include Benjamin Zephaniah, Martin and Eliza Carthy, Paul Weller, Transglobal Underground and Billy Bragg.
To be fair, the album fulfils its immodest brief admirably. It all hangs together pretty well, far from the cultural car crash it could’ve been, although it’s all a bit of a Mojo cover story’s idea of eclectic, perhaps. However, the kitchen sink clutter of the arrangements – perhaps inevitable given the sheer density of performers involved – is a frequent distraction. For example, a slightly robotic rendition of “John Barleycorn” attracts the combined attentions of Paul Weller, Martin and Eliza Carthy, and then gets layers of programming ladled on top. Does it communicate any more effectively than, say, Traffic’s sparse interpretation? I’d say not. A retold “Tam Lyn” becomes a tale of drugs, pregnancy and illegal immigration (becomes? Isn’t that a pretty accurate summation of the original?) courtesy of Benjamin Zephaniah, Eliza Carthy and Transglobal Underground. It’s got beats and basslines, so you could dance to it (and not morris dance to it, either), but…well, at least it gets me itching for Easy Star All-Stars to remake “Liege & Lief”. Eliza Carthy brings a curiously chilly sexuality to “The Welcome Sailor”, but again, the performance is pretty crowded. Billy Bragg’s remake/remodel of “Hard Times Of Old England” already seems old-fashioned and provincial, given what’s happened to global economics since this album was released in 2007. Where it all comes together, though, in a seamless fusion of modern and traditional, is Tiger Moth’s rollicking ceilidh soundtrack “Sloe On The Uptake”, the one moment on this brave, frustrating album that ends too soon.