Mermaid Avenue review by Billy Bragg & Wilco

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  • Released: Jun 23, 1998
  • Sound: 10
  • Lyrics: 10
  • Overall Impression: 10
  • Reviewer's score: 10 Gem
  • Users' score: 9.5 (10 votes)
Billy Bragg & Wilco: Mermaid Avenue

Sound — 10
When Billy Bragg and Wilco were approached by a descendent of Woody Guthrie (I think a grandaughter or niece), they were asked to be the ones to put music to Woody's archive lyrics. The two artists/bands joined together to create a collection of folk/country songs applied to Guthrie's words. The result was a fantastic, rootsy sound, filled with motifs of bluegrass, blues, rockabilly, and other similar country-type genres. With some songs vocalized by Jeff Tweedy, and some by Billy Bragg, Mermaid Avenue is filled with lapsteels, banjos, dobros, and of course plain old acoustic guitars. This all contributes to Mermaid Avenue as a bright-sounding folk album.

Lyrics — 10
The lyrics as mentioned before were those of Woody Guthrie. Billy Bragg and Jeff Tweedy searched in his archives for whichever songs interested them, and applied melodies. So as you can expect from Woody Guthrie, the lyrics spoke of justice, union rights, human rights, and of course the sexual fantasies Woody Guthrie had of Ingrid Bergman. Plenty of the words are strikingly ahead of the time, predicting the change that was to come in later years for the United States and the world. Sometimes sad, and sometimes witty and sharp, I think it's safe to say that Woody did a good job on his part in the production of this album.

Overall Impression — 10
Compared to it's counterpart, Mermaid Avenue Volume 2, I'd say its slightly less good. The second album explores a wider range of sounds, and I think they played it safer when making this first album. However that's not to say it was too safe, because the sound really did fit just right. A couple of the best tunes would be the very popular "California Stars" and "One By One." Billy sings a charming tune called "Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key," which tells the witty story of a little boy's childhood crush, and Jeff Tweedy sings an extremely short, but sad sounding piano song called "Another Man's Done Gone." I really love the instrumentals of it all, like the sweet slide licks and mellow acoustic backdrops. And of course, I really love Woody's lyrics, and their wide range of themes. I really couldnt say anything bad about this album. If I lost this album, I would absolutely get it again. It's a great album, and I'd consider it necessary for my collection.

1 comment sorted by best / new / date

    This is easily one the my favorite records. I don't spin it all that often, but I have loved it for years.