90. Billy Bragg & Wilco – “Mermaid Avenue”

As the fiery discussion of Pet Sounds reflects, I’m not particularly respectful of historically significant albums. But I do like it when musicians make creative use of historical work.

billy bragg and wilco mermaid avenue album cover This is a truly fascinating collaboration.  The story is Bragg was handed access to US folk-music legend Woody Guthrie’s songbooks which contained lyrics but little music.  He and Wilco set about reinterpreting them as modern tunes. The two acts play to their strengths very well. Jeff Tweedy is by far the stronger singer, and his band can finger-pick and sway with the best of them.

On all accounts, the collaborators came to blows regarding production levels (namely that Billy was overdoing it).  This shouldn’t surprise given Bragg’s recent form.

Irrespective, the resultant product is pretty coherent. The Wilco tracks are much quirkier, while Bragg tends to push the politics a little, although he also rolls out a starstruck Ingrid Bergman ode.  They highlight the humour, modernity and out-and-out fun of Woody Guthrie. Most of the tracks lean towards the quirky and slightly twisted.  This could lead one to think that Guthrie was more like Ween than Springsteen is his demeanour… which is a good thing.

File under: History can be fun

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One response to “90. Billy Bragg & Wilco – “Mermaid Avenue”

  1. I remember seeing the doco late at night about the making of this, although it was late at night and I was probably sleepy. The highlight for me was not the music nor the bickering, but getting to see Natalie Merchant sitting on the couch doing that whole smiling thing – nobody does it better. I’m told she loves me very much.

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