Billy Bragg & Wilco : Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions
To commemorate 100 years since the birth of Woody Guthrie, the Complete Mermaid Sessions updates the earlier releases and proves a neat little package for any fans of the series or the artists. Containing the original Mermaid Avenue album of 1998, 2000’s second volume of off-cuts and a third disc of the scraps that remained, it also includes the Man In The Sand documentary DVD on the making of the albums.
Try as I might to listen to the entire list of songs, I’m here for the Wilco songs and them alone. Billy Bragg’s songs may bear more resemblance to the music of Guthrie, with their traditional arrangements and simple folk chords, but it’s hard to look past Bragg’s nasal whine and political grandstanding delivery. He’s a terrible, awful bore. And when the alternative is so full of wonder and the highest class, not drawing a comparison can prove difficult. Here we have a snapshot of one of the greatest bands of the last 20 years, in one of their most fertile periods and singing lyrics written by the voice of a generation, albeit a distant one. Tweedy still has that compelling little scratch in his voice that hasn’t been bred out by ewwww, practice, and Nels Cline hasn’t yet showed up on the scene to overplay the shit out of everything. What's more, as he was still an integral part of the group as Tweedy’s creative foil, it’s the late multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett’s sense of restraint here in creating tension out of what he doesn’t play that is so riveting. One By One and new editions to the series Listening To The Wind That Blows and When The Roses Bloom Again are a marvelous reminder of his sorely missed talent. And now due to the magic of playlists, you can create your very own lost Wilco album and not have to get off the couch every second track to hit skip. The Mermaid Avenue series beautifully illustrates the bridge between the tasteful and more organic alt-country playing on Being There and the technicolour explosion that produced Summerteeth. And if you like Billy Bragg, well, that’s your problem.
BY NICK HILTON
Best Track: Secret Of The Sea
If You Like These, You’ll Like This: WILCO, protest music, and yes, OK, BILLY BRAGG
In A Word: Roger