Folk music, as Empire and Love shows so well, is a music that has a grounding in both past and present, both populist and political.
And so what better way to begin an offering from this gathering of British musicians, who include Martin and Eliza Carthy, Simon Emmerson and Sheila Chandra, than with ‘My Son John’ – a song dating from the Napoleonic wars updated to include Afghanistan? There’s a raw fury in Martin Carthy’s voice that stirs this song and gives it a dignified urgency. Elsewhere, the gentle movement between past and present informs much of what Empire and Love does: samples of a song from the Kent miners’ wives feeds into ‘Byker Grove’; ‘Space Girl’, a galactic-themed romance by Ewan MacColl is built from Peggy Seeger’s arrangement of a traditional tune. The most populist aspect of the album is either Martin Carthy’s revisitation of ‘Scarborough Fair’ or a far from raucous rendition of Slade’s ‘Cum On, Feel the Noize’. This is the second album from the Villagers – or Parish Council as they call themselves – and it’s a mellifluous, intelligent affair, more acoustic than its studio-based début of 2007. Second time around and with the slimmed-down band, the Parish Council can turn a mosh-up of sitar, fiddle and electronic squonking on a sixpence – and elegantly so.
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