|Billy Bragg and Wilco - Mermaid Avenue|
|Music Disc Reviews Audio CD|
|Written by Jason Karsh|
|Tuesday, 23 June 1998|
| Performance 7 | Sound 8 |
As Bragg himself puts it, Woody Guthrie has mostly been viewed by this country "over the shoulder of Bob Dylan or somewhere in the distance of a Bruce Springsteen song." A characterization which, depending on your knowledge of Guthrie, could be an amazing understatement. At the risk of an oversimplification, Woody Guthrie was an American poet, singer, songwriter, and political activist until his death in 1967. His words and lyrics have inspired too many artists to name and for the last couple of years Billy Bragg (no political doormat himself) has been putting some of Guthrie's never-published words to music at the request of Guthrie's daughter. The result is 'Mermaid Avenue.'
Easily the finest work Bragg has done in years, 'Avenue' features the vocals of not only himself, but of Wilco front-man Jeff Tweedy, and Natalie Merchant. (That Merchant is included on this album should surprise no one, as she thanks Guthrie on her latest release Ophelia.) The production value is as heartfelt as the words written a half-century ago, creating a folk album the likes of which Guthrie would probably be proud.