Billy Bragg + Wilco | Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions

Nonesuch (2012)
By ZETH LUNDY  |  May 1, 2012
3.0 3.0 Stars


In 1998, and again in 2000, English singer-songwriter Billy Bragg teamed up with Wilco— not yet on their post-Americana trip — to put unreleased Woody Guthrie lyrics to music. The two resulting albums lent new dimensions to an old folkie, and gave equal time to Guthrie's fondness for simplicity, humor, and even children's songs as his much-ballyhooed fascist-huntin' reputation. The Complete Sessions adds a third volume of 17 unreleased tracks to the mix, as well as the documentary Man in the Sand, detailing Bragg's Guthrie pilgrimage and behind-the-scenes recording sessions. Volume III (which is also available on its own) is nearly as strong as its predecessors, even if some of its songs ("Give Me a Nail," "Jolly Bankers") feel like they were recorded while still in incubation. Regardless, the music here is visceral enough that it holds its own in the legacy of the project. "When the Roses Bloom Again" and "Listening to the Wind That Blows" are vintage Wilco circa Being There, while Bragg's rawer solo pieces — "Don't You Marry" and "Satisfied Now" — cut reliably to the quick. If the Bragg/Wilco vaults run any deeper, I say bring on Volume IV; if not, this chunk of semi-revisionist tunes will do just fine for quite some time.

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