December 20

Happy birthday to Stephen William “Billy” Bragg born on this day in 1957:

To celebrate I’ve pulled out one of my most treasured pieces of vinyl, the 1998 collaboration between Bragg and the band Wilco entitled Mermaid Avenue:

Billy Bragg Mermaid Avenue.jpg

The story behind this record is that Woody Guthrie, suffering from the effects of Huntington’s disease, left over 1000 written sets of lyrics with no music to accompany them. Guthrie’s daughter Nora contacted Bragg and Wilco and proposed that they take handful of these fully formed lyric sheets and write music for them.

The collaborators agreed that they wouldn’t try to write music that was too folksy or too reminiscent of Guthrie, rather they would right new contemporary styles of music that would go along with the lyrics.

Some of the songs are completed by Bragg alone, some by the members of Wilco solo, others are full blown collaborations between the two.

If you’ve never heard the Mermaid Avenue album I suggest you do. Is one of my all time favorite records! I even went so far as to make a pilgrimage to the actual Mermaid Ave. in Cony Island, New York, where Guthrie and his family lived for a time.

It makes me wonder why I have never sought out any non-Mermaid Avenue Billy Bragg material. I’ll have to put that on my list for next year!

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3 thoughts on “December 20

  1. Great album! When I first saw Billy perform it was almost painful to watch, but he’s really grown into his role and I think he’s taken great social responsibility on his shoulders in the musical path he’s trodden, together with his collection of love/relationship songs. I saw him a few years back at Razzmatazz in Barcelona and he had the crowd eating out of his hand! Worth checking out the later volumes of this album as well.

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