Category: Billy Bragg

Review: Billy Bragg, Mr. Love & Justice

There’s probably no more succinct way to describe English folk-punk Billy Bragg than with the title of his latest album, Mr. Love & Justice. His songwriting has always been marked by two major themes: outspoken leftist protest songs, and tender love songs, both seasoned with intelligence, wit, and simple compassion. In his younger days, Bragg favored a loud, distortion-heavy guitar as his sole accompaniment, which both fit his image as a lefty firebrand and helped strip his songs to their bare essence. Since 1988′s Workers Playtime, he’s embraced a gentler, warmer, and fuller sound that is still the dominant mode on Mr. Love & Justice, reflecting Bragg’s mellower nature. (There’s also a deluxe double-CD version of Love that features solo-electric takes on the songs, a mode that’s still an essential part of his live set.) Only his third album of new material in 12 years, Love finds Bragg standing on more solid ground than 2002′s uneven England, Half English. He captures Woody Guthrie’s puckish humor on “The Beach Is Free,” a breezy celebration of the pleasures in life that aren’t yet under corporate ownership, and he displays his gift for combining earnestness and melody on “Sing Their Souls Back Home.” While he doesn’t scale the heights he achieved on earlier albums, at least the mountains are visible from here.

Originally published on April 21, 2008. Read the complete article.

Inventory: 12 Songs About Shopping

10. Billy Bragg, “The Busy Girl Buys Beauty”
It’s only to be expected that rock’s most outspoken socialist would view shopping with a skeptical eye. In this song from Billy Bragg’s fiery 1983 debut EP, he mocks the notion at the heart of the modern advertising industry—namely, that a person can simply buy happiness as long as she “buys what she’s told to buy.” But he isn’t being a grinch: His proletarian anger isn’t directed at the girls trying to buy their way into better lives, but the lies they’re fed that try to get them to hand over cash for a chance at a mostly illusory “mail-order paradise.”

11. The Handsome Family, “24-Hour Store”
Where Billy Bragg worries that the world of commerce damages people by making them see things that aren’t real, Rennie Sparks of The Handsome Family is troubled instead by lonely, isolated people who might be happy if only they could see the miraculous world that’s hidden from them. “24-Hour Store” is a typically Sparks-esque combination of ghostly mysticism and detached observation of mundane life. It’s easy to imagine Sparks off in a corner at her neighborhood Wal-Mart at midnight, watching the insomniacs pushing broken carts down the aisle in a mild, sad stupor, while invisible angels “fly through lights… in particles of light that fall from the sun.” Whether she’s talking about God, art, or some other spiritual lack is, well, immaterial.

Originally published on Dec. 1, 2006 as part of a group-written Inventory feature; I wrote the sections on Billy Bragg and the Handsome Family. Read the complete article.

Interview: Billy Bragg

Billy BraggFor nearly 30 years, Englishman Billy Bragg has kept the faith as one of the most outspokenly political songwriters of his time. From anthems like “There Is Power In A Union,” which Bragg wrote in support of striking mine workers in Thatcher-era Britain, to bringing forgotten Woody Guthrie lyrics to life in his collaboration with Wilco on the two Mermaid Avenue discs, Bragg has made a career of mixing leftist humanist sentiments with punk energy, memorable melodies, and emotionally vulnerable love songs. He’s just released Billy Bragg Volume 1, a nine-CD box set comprising his 1983 debut, Life’s A Riot With Spy Vs Spy, 1984′s Brewing Up With Billy Bragg, 1986′s Talking With The Taxman About Poetry, and the 1990 EP The Internationale, along with other rarities of the era, including video of live performances behind the Iron Curtain. Bragg plays Austin, Texas’ SXSW Festival March 17 before heading out on a tour of the eastern U.S. through the end of the month. The A.V. Club tracked Bragg down at his home in Dorset, England, to chat about pop and politics.

Originally published on March 21, 2006. Read the complete article.

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