Billy Bragg is near the top of my list for bands or artists I desperately need to see live - and soon. I jumped on board - as I'm sure many Bragg fans did - after hearing the Mermaid Avenue album. First was Worker's Playtime on a recommendation, then Back to Basics and anything I could find after that. By the time Mermaid Avenue Two was released, I was fully a Billy Bragg fan.
So now that Billy has a new album - Mr. Love & Justice - coming out later this month, it's time to revisit some old favorites in preparation. Say what you will about the "One Man Clash" comparisons, or the overly political songwriting, but in my mind he's impossible to pigeonhole.
Bragg is a stunningly engaging and captivating songwriter and musical figure and the fact that he is so explicit in tying together the folk of Woody Guthrie and the punk of the Clash as part of the same continuum of working-class music is enough to make him a legend.
He's more than earned elder-statesman status now and sometimes that can shy people away from new records, but I'm definitely going to pick up Mr. Love & Justice on April 22. Anti- is a label that can really do no wrong for established musicians, so I have no doubt it will be a strong record. For a British lefty folk musician who came of age in Thatcher's England, I'm dying to see what insights he can have at the tail end of Bush's America.
Love and justice are themes of Bragg's music through the ages, so I'm hesitant to think the title implies too much about the current times, but I'm far more excited about this record than I was for Enland, Half-English in 2002 or any of the spate of re-releases the last few years.
For proof that his passion as a performer is as strong as ever, check out his updated and reinvigorated Lead Belly cover, "The Bush War Blues" as well as a lyrically updated version.
And as far as some of the classics go, look no further than Catfish Vegas to dig out two great millennial versions of reupdated Bragg classics, as well as a solo version of one of his Woody Guthrie tunes.
Billy Bragg - She Came Along To Me (Live Hamburg, 2000)
Billy Bragg - Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards (Live Barbican, 2004)
Billy Bragg - The Saturday Boy (Live KEXP, 2006)
Check out this live performance of another early classic - "A New England" - with Kate Nash:
And if you've still got some energy, there's plenty of Billy Bragg on YouTube and over at archive.org.