Billy Bragg – [Album]

Saturday, 13 April 2013

The last few years have been surprisingly uncertain ones for Billy Bragg. After the singer finished his contract with Elektra in 2002 with England, Half English, he chose to seek his fortunes elsewhere and landed briefly on ANTI- Records. While 2008's Mr. Love & Justice (the singer's only album for ANTI-) was received well enough, Bragg's wanderlust endured and, after an extended stay in limbo, the singer has finally landed in good company with the Dine Alone stable.

So what does a weary traveler usually do when he finally finds a new place he'd like to call home? It's not uncommon to start fresh an start simply – and that's exactly what Billy Bragg has done on Tooth & Nail; with a set of twelve simple, working class folk songs and a small new band of seasoned players, empties out his heavy heart and soul on his thirteenth studio album.

Now, there is exactly nothing special about Tooth & Nail (one could even argue that it qualifies as a compilation as one song listed originally appeared as a Japanese bonus track on Mr. Love & Justice, and another appeared on the Pressure Drop soundtrack), but Billy Bragg has always shone brightest in simple, decidedly “un-special” situations and the playing of Tooth & Nail is no exception. How else could one define a running which includes a song like “Goodbye, Goodbye” – where lyrics like “The coffee pot is cold/ The jokes have all been told/ The last stone has been rolled away” feel like one of the warmest and most welcoming ballads one could ever hope to hear and not at all the regretful departure that the lyrics imply? It's fantastic, but that song is really only the tip of what listeners can expect here – there are many songs which exceed its quality. Tracks like “January Song,” “No One Knows Nothing Anymore,” “Handyman Blues” and “Tomorrow's Going To Be A Better Day” (check out lines like “Don't be disheartened baby, don't be fooled/ Take it from someone who knows the glass is half full/ Tomorrow's going to be a better day […]/ We're going to make it that way”) all chime with an instantly accessible voice of hope which is beautiful and gets pushed through with the sort of heart, soul and desire that those who hear it won't just want to believe in it, they'll feel like they need to believe in it; those who don't should be scorned and chastised for clearly having no heart at all, or one which is simply glutted with cynicism.

With such a bold statement already on the record for this album, it should go without saying that Tooth & Nail marks a fantastic new start for Billy Bragg. While the material on the singer's thirteenth album is not new ground, it rings with a freshness that fans will find easy to love. Now that he's found new lodging, here's hoping he gets comfortable enough to write and record some more material as good as this.


Billy Bragg – Tooth & Nail – “January Song” – [mp3]
Billy Bragg – Tooth & Nail – “Handyman Blues” – [mp3]


Tooth & Nail
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .


Billy Bragg – [Album]

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

What can be said about Billy Bragg that hasn't been said since the singer first appeared thirty-three years ago? In that time, he's been revered in his native UK as a national treasure, he's had a celebrated solo career, and has also found time to sit in and record albums with everyone from Less Than Jake to Wilco. He`s been afforded comparisons to every legend from Woody Guthrie to Joe Strummer and had every other form of praise that can be thought of thrown his way; there isn’t a musician playing that wouldn’t kill for a career half as lauded.

So what does one do when faced with such an imposing public expectation? In this case, the singer just casually lives up to it. Mr. Love & Justice, Bragg’s first release in five years and first for Anti-, finds the songwriter soldiering forward the best way he knows how: with a set of emotionally charged songs that outline his reactions to recent events in the world (“Sing our songs of freedom, sing our songs of peace, sing about sweet harmony to make the fighting cease” from “Beach Is Free” says it all) and recounting tales of love and personal relationships against a modest folk background. It isn’t new, but doesn’t sound old either—they’re simply classic forms that never fall out of fashion.

In the case of each song on Mr. Love & Justice, Bragg internalizes each of the stimuli he’s singing about—be it the love of his life, men fighting for a cause half a world away or the plights and problems of his countrymen that live up the street—and digests them in order to find a way to relate to them himself, then hands them to listeners gently as if handing over pieces of himself. It’s a remarkably cathartic experience, but it isn’t to say that Bragg can’t be scathing or dry-eyed. On tracks including “Something Happened” (which sounds like the singer’s indictment of a self-absorbed lover), “The Johnny Carcinogenic Show," “Farm Boy” and the title track, Bragg’s observations are very biting in the way they’re outlined, but the singer’s empathy and need to understand still run as a strong undercurrent beneath the criticisms and thus fueling the draw for listeners.

That feeling of conflict—of seeing the problems around him but empathizing with both parties involved—is what drives Mr. Love & Justice. As has always been the case with Billy Bragg, he internalizes his surroundings and places himself among his subjects in so doing. He might not be offering answers or solutions, but he is offering a look at both sides of the coin in an effort to get those that fall in the black or white side of thinking to see and understand the other. Once again the singer does that time after time in these songs, and once again he leaves himself naked for listeners to fall in love with. As with every other album he’s released, Mr. Love & Justice is a record to treasure for those that find it.

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