Over the past 30 years, England’s Billy Bragg has established himself as one of the most gifted, confident and clever songwriters anywhere, gaining a loyal and large fanbase for his protest songs and romantic ballads. Now, bolstered by noted producer Joe Henry, Bragg returns with his first, official solo album in five years. It’s called Tooth & Nail and is out March 19, 2013, on Dine Alone Records in Canada. Bragg will perform in select western Canadian cities in early April, and in Ontario and Quebec in early May.
Listen to Tooth & Nail now for one week, and read (and hear) an interview with Bragg, below.
ListenTooth & Nail by Billy Bragg
Streaming until March 19
(Courtesy of Dine Alone Records)
Although he’s kept his tour schedule busy and circulated some new music on his website, Bragg has kept something of a low profile since releasing his 2008 LP, Mr. Love & Justice. But that began to change last year with the release of Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions, documenting his tribute to Woody Guthrie, a collaboration with the band Wilco. Mermaid Avenue was originally presented in two volumes, the first released in 1998, followed by the second in 2000.
Interestingly, Bragg feels that Tooth & Nail is really the proper followup to Mermaid Avenue. With the rise of right-wing politics in the U.K. at around the time the Mermaid Avenue albums came out, Bragg’s anti-racist ire was raised. Instead of pursuing the folk-rock aesthetic he’d just discovered, he released the polemical England, Half English in 2002.
“It was a shame, because in some ways Mermaid Avenue opened up a whole new audience for me,” Bragg says by phone. “Both Wilco and Woody Guthrie fans and even my own fans were interested in listening to me singing in that style, [but] I never really re-visited that.
“Having spent last year with the reissues of Mermaid Avenue and it being Woody Guthrie’s centennial, I did a number of shows celebrating his life and it brought me back around to this way of doing things again.”
Bragg says that working with Jeff Tweedy and the late Jay Bennett of Wilco really opened his mind up to a different, more collaborative way of working in the studio. Until then, he was pretty much one man on his own, making records under his own direction. But Wilco, a band transitioning from a reliable roots-rock combo to a more daring, esoteric pop outfit, guided Bragg through previously unexplored folk, blues and soul sounds that he returned to on Tooth & Nail.
Bragg’s friend, producer-songwriter Henry, suggested he could put together a great band and make a new record in less than a week, and invited Bragg to his California basement studio to do so. The promise of such a swift process left Bragg incredulous, but because he was self-financing the project it made sense, and the schedule allowed him to concentrate exclusively on the task at hand. Bragg taught the band his songs and the result is Tooth & Nail, one of his finest albums.
“I took a roll of the dice on it and I was amazed when I came back a week later with a complete record,” he says.
IMTo hear the full conversation, you can download an MP3 if you right-click this highlighted text and “Save target as." Or to stream it, press play.
See Billy Bragg live in Canada and beyond in the coming months.
Follow Vish Khanna on Twitter: @vishkhanna
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