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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Empire and Love
Format: Audio CD|Change
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VINE VOICEon 13 January 2010
This follow-up to The Imagined Village's eponymous debut on Real World from 2007 is a much lower budget effort than its predecessor, but none the worse for that. Eschewing big-name guest artists like Paul Weller or Benjamin Zephaniah in favour of the core talent - English folk's quiet king Chris Wood, elder statesman Martin Carthy and his daughter Eliza - it breathes new life into classics like "The Weaver & the Factory Maid" and "Byker Hill", seasoning the latter with some bitter recollections from a modern miner's wife. Wood's reworking of "Scarborough Fair" substitutes subtly interwoven violins for the cystalline traceries of Simon & Garfunkel's hit version and the band's audacious cover of Slade's 70s barnstormer "Cum On Feel The Noize" strips away the glam racket in favour of a gentle come-all-ye, an invitation to the kind of mythic celebration which you feel might be vanishing into the mists even as the words are uttered. Subtle, yet powerful stuff.
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on 5 October 2017
A good listen.
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on 12 January 2010
I first encountered The Imagined Village on Later ... With Jools Holland when they performed Cold Haily Rainy Night (which can still be viewed on YouTube). I was amazed by the eclectic mixture of musical styles and the staggering talent of the players involved. I ordered the album from Amazon the next day. That record went on to be my favourite album of that year and still gets played regularly in our house.

I had enjoyed Simon Emmerson's previous project The Afro Celt Sound System a lot, but The Imagined Village was something else!

Whereas that first album seemed to be an Emmerson studio project with lots of very talented guests (Billy Bragg, Sheila Chandra, Benjamin Zephaniah, Paul Weller, etc.), Empire & Love has much more of a "band" feel about it. With live performances over the last few years, The Imagined Village has now morphed into a fully fledged 10 piece band with Chris Wood, Eliza Carthy, Martin Carthy, Barney Morse-Brown, Johnny Kalsi, Andy Gangadeen, Ali Friend, Sheema Mukhergee and Simon Richmond joining Emmerson throughout the album.

On first listening, the wonderfully catchy Space Girl (with Eliza Carthy on vocals) was probably my favourite track. But as you listen to the album more, different tracks stand out ... in my book, that's the mark of a really great album. Sweet Jane (sung by Chris Wood) has an infectious groove and The Handweaver & The Factory Maid features almost ambient elements.

As with the first album, there are some 'traditional' songs which get The Imagined Village treatment. This time they include Scarborough Fair, The Lark In The Morning ... and Slade's Cum On Feel The Noize beautifully sung by Martin Carthy.

Whilst The Imagined Village includes aspects of contemporary folk music from Martin & Eliza Carthy and Chris Wood, when mixed with the samples and textures of Simon Richmond, Sheema Mukhergee's haunting sitar and the grooves of the rhythm section of Andy Gangadeen, Ali Friend, Barney Morse-Brown and Johnny Kalsi it produces a sound that is totally unique.

There are VERY few albums released these days that make me want to hit PLAY again as soon as it has finished ... Empire & Love definitely does - a cracking album from start to finish.

And for any Audiophiles reading this review, on a good hi-fi system Simon Emmerson's production sounds amazing.

To say that the sum is greater than the component elements when the elements include the likes of Martin & Eliza Carthy, Chris Wood and Andy Gangadeen is quite something ... but The Imagined Village have managed it.
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on 15 January 2010
Heavens, another genre-bending cross-fertilisation of traditional English folk music. This album, the second by Simon Emmerson and Martin Carthy's eclectic assortment of British-born Anglo-Asian musicians, is a much more cohesive effort than its predecessor and suggests that what was formerly a rather ramshackle collective has now formed itself into a proper band, with startling results.

As folk music goes, whilst never betraying its roots this is a million miles removed from the Arran jumper finger-in-yer-ear stereotype with which the genre has long been saddled. Indeed, some of the tracks feature a rhythm section of which many a self-respecting rock band would be proud. Go bhangra the drum.

Like much of this style of music, it's predominantly dark and sombre. The opening track 'My Son John', about a man who loses both his legs in battle sets the overall tone, with only a couple of songs like the jaunty tongue-in-cheek 'Space Girl' to lighten the mood.

If your only connection with 'Scarborough Fair' is Simon & Garfunkel's angelic version then both versions on offer here will come as something of a shock, each a different manifestation of melancholy - one with sitar preponderant, the other swathed in brooding strings. Similarly, the agitated 'Rosebuds In June' is a long way removed from, say, Steeleye Span's colourful version. Elsewhere, the largely instrumental 'Mermaid' sounds like it's just waiting for an inspired club remix.

Only an all-too-knowing rendition of that traditional olde-English folk staple 'Cum on Feel The Noize' fails to fully convince, the sheer audacity of the idea rather better in the end than its actual delivery.

Quite what the purists and the old beardies will make of this, heaven only knows.
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on 15 January 2010
As other reviewers have already said, this is a nice piece of work. It's also, in a way, rather subtle, intentionally (I believe) or otherwise.

My copy arrived in the same post as a copy of "Heydays" by Maddy Prior and the recently departed Tim Hart, which I'd bought in order to have a decent memento of Tim on CD, my vinyls being now a bit long in the tooth. Heydays contains what will for some listeners have been "the original version" of "My son John", which opens Empire & Love. The Imagined Village version demonstrates the ease with which a traditional folk standard can seamlessly be up-graded to the current day. One minute you're hearing Martin Carthy singing the accustomed words, and then then you're doing a double-take, and saying to yourself "Did he just mention Iraq and Afghanistan, carbon fibre limbs etc?"

A similar effect is achieved by over-dubbing the 1980's words of "Coal not Dole" behind an otherwise fairly standard Carthy-esque rendition of "Byker Hill". Top marks, however, again to Martin Carthy, for showing how effortlessly Slade's "Cum On Feel The Noize" can take on the mantle of a piece of contemporary folk music, if ever it were really anything else, of course. Carthy has elsewhere done something similar with Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel". Well-read folkies will be put in mind of the anecdote attributed to Ewan Macoll, who, having written "Shoals of Herring" sang it to the (then) ancient Norfolk fisherman and singer Sam Larner. Larner is said to have replied "Yes, I've known that song all my life", and no doubt believed that he had.

Even though I might not be an Eliza Carthy fan, I'm a definite Chris Wood afficianado. I was amused that it was he who got two shots on this album at "Scarborough Fair". This is, of course, the very song that Paul Simon says he learned from Martin Carthy himself. Do I like his versions? What's to dislike, unless you feel that he's in some way obliged to produce some sort of homage to the Carthy and Simon versions? Which of course he's not.

The rest has been said by others. This is a nice, beautifully arranged collection of familiar stuff, sandwiched between an opening track about Empire and a closing track on Love. It's not "about" either. Enjoy it for what it is. More soon, please.
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on 4 January 2010
The Imagined Village's second album, Empire and Love, follows the band's stunning, self-titled 2007 debut with a sound that is more organic and acoustic, with lots of guitars, sitar, live drums and strings. The heavy electronica of the first album is absent here, although a few interesting keyboard sounds pop up. Gone, too, are the guest appearances by the likes of TransGlobal Underground, Billy Bragg, and the Gloworms (although British singer Jackie Oates does offer an awesome lead vocal on "Lark in the Morning"). Instead, the ten band members (Simon Emmerson, Eliza Carthy, Martin Carthy, Sheema Mukherjee, Simon Richmond, Chris Wood, Andy Gangadeen, Barney Morse-Brown, Ali Friend and Johnny Kalsi) handle the majority of the duties themselves, and the results are impressive. Empire and Love is probably close to what the Imagined Village sounds like in a live setting.

To my ears, the album has a darker and more melancholy feel. This is evident right from the lead track, "My Son John," an English ballad about a man who loses his legs in battle (this interpretation gives the story a tragic update with references to Iraq and Afghanistan). The standard "Scarborough Fair" is given two outings, a sitar-heavy first take and a beautiful string-laden finale, and both versions make Simon and Garfunkel's famous recording seem positively sunny by comparison. Perhaps the biggest shock on the record is a cover of Slade's 1973 hit "Cum on Feel the Noize," which was later covered by the likes of Oasis. The Imagined Village's version is fragile, world-weary and heartbreaking, sounding nothing like the ridiculous party anthem envisioned by Quiet Riot in the 80s. For reasons I can't explain, it sounds perfectly at home on this album. There are some upbeat moments, too, such as "Byker Hill," with a zippy string arrangement.

The Imagined Village's debut record was something of a concept album, set on making a statement. Empire and Love is more about having fun with the music (even though much of it is dark in tone) and letting the artist's talents shine through. Catch the band live if you can, but definitely pick up this CD. It's excellent!
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on 18 January 2011

A wonderful mixture of traditional sounds (including the vocals) spiced with Indian sitars and electronic additions. Some great melding of instruments, voices, and sounds make this a very beguiling, and occasionally (in a nice way) trippy album.

Although I loved the "Stormy Night" track from the first album (like many others, I was blown away by the live version on "Later with Jools..."), I was actually put off buying the first album because of all the star guests, rather than attracted to it - but here, as another reviewer writes, there's a coherent real "band" feel, and it's very, very good.

Yes, a satisfying, beguiling album indeed............
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on 10 February 2010
The difficulty is in categorising this splendid group of talented musicians. "Folk" might be off-putting to some, but you just have to "feel the noise"! This leaves Fairport and others so last century. Several tracks take early Steeleye Span arrangements but all become super-charged here. "Rosebuds in June" and "My Son John" end with massive leaping-about energy; Sweet Jane is a delicious fusion of so many sounds; Scarborough Fair with sitar accompaniment is such an original reinterpretation of the song Martin Carthy first made famous - before Paul Simon. A genius album to play over and over. Just try track one: Napoleonic wars revisted in Afghanistan - a bitter twentyfirst century comtemporay story of Blair's Cool Britannia war. One criticism - why waste time and space reprising one track when another new one has to be preferred. So come on, where's the DVD? They're pretty good live too!
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on 12 January 2010
I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of Empire And Love, and I can honestly say with hand on heart that I am not disappointed!

The debut album was an absolute stunner, and was my favourite album of 2007... Empire And Love has the potential to be headliner in my 2010 list by the end of this year too. There may not have been the initial WOW I got when I first heard Cold, Haily, Rainy Night and Tam Lyn Retold, but the amalgamation of the 'traditional' British folk with beautiful sitar, soulful cello, slightly trippy and beautifully subtle drumming and the fantastic (if not as prominent as you may expect) dhol and tabla is mesmeric. Plus... you can't go wrong with a Theramin! ; )

The vocals do not disappoint throughout. Martin is in fine fettle as always, with a superb acoustic version of a Slade classic (does anyone else remember Mr. Holder doing a version of this on 'The Grimleys'?) which has an air of fascinating dejection about it. Or that 'end of a VERY long jam session at the local pub' feel...

Chris Wood's voice is like warm honey, and the 1st version of Scarborough Fair (with vocals) is sublime... The daydream-like way the sitar initially carries the tune shows how traditional music and traditional instruments from EVERY corner of the planet can gel together so beautifully.

Eliza's vocals are fantastic! Sultry and powerful.

I know I've picked the obvious people out individually here, but, as you'd expect, the whole ensemble are incredibly talented performers.

Space Girl is my initial favourite (you MUST check out the wonderful animated video for this on youtube), but I love the way that each song has the ability to draw you into a different frame of mind, exploring a range of emotions with a tantalising mix of musical backgrounds. The vocal harmonies, the interweaving instruments... just superb!

Is it worth the 5 stars I have awarded it? At first listen, because of my affection for the first album, I may have given it 4 stars if I'd have reviewed it immediately, BUT, any album which makes you discover something new and enthralling each time you listen to it, changes subtly depending on the mood you are in when you listen AND has the ability to genuinely give you goosebumps at certain points on the album is most definitely worth the whole 5 stars in my mind.

I have to take up a couple of points made by another reviewer...

I don't happen to think the Scarborough Fair reprise is a wasted track at all. It's a beautiful piece of music in it's own right, and to hear it as a tastefully executed tune (without vocals) rather than some of the 'casio-keyboard, lift-musak' versions that I have heard has given me a new appreciation for the tune. It's also a very nice way to end an evening, with candle-light and a nice glass of wine.

Also... the comment about the first review being pre-album release and questioning if it was self advertising... I think that is a very dim view to take. We all know that promotional copies of albums (well, of EVERYTHING) get released to papers, magazines, radio stations, professional reviewers weeks before we are able to buy them... It's their job to do reviews, whether glowing or not, it's not their job to sing the praises of what they're reviewing. This reviewer was obviously in agreement with the superb reviews in many of the broad-sheets last weekend, which incidentally were all published before the album became available 'to the public'... Plus, we all also know how much stuff gets leaked before it's meant to! Just saying... Life's not all conspiracy theories! ; )
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on 4 March 2010
This is more of a 'band' album, the first album featuring more guests and 'assembled' pieces I would guess but here they sound as if they are playing together as a band on every number. A great album from a fascinating band. Martin Carthy's Updated version of My son John shows that songs written for the Napoleonic wars can still ring true today! Eliza's version Of Space Girl you may have heard on the radio and is great fun with the ring of truth and Martin's version of Cum on Feel The Noize is both a surprise and a delight. Though I have mentioned the Carthy clan here that in no way should detract from the fact that this is a 'Band' album and what an astoundingly good band they are. Give it a listen do, this band are National Treasures.
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