Billy Bragg
Albums

  • England, Half English
  • Mr Love And Justice








  • adriandenning.co.uk
    album reviews

    Billy Bragg

    england, half english mr love and justice

    England, Half English 7 ( 2002 )
    St. Monday / Jane Allen / Distant Shore / England, Half English / N.W.P.A. / Some Days I See The Point / Baby Farouk / Take Down The Union Jack / Another Kind Of Judy / He'll Go Down / Dreadbelly / Tracks Of My Tears

    Billy came out solo again, backed with his touring band, after wowing America with his Guthrie/Wilco albums. Unfairly maligned upon initial release, 'England, Half English' is actually one of his most rounded yet diverse albums to date. He doesn't get bogged down in the politics of it all and indeed, goes musically muticultural across several of the album tracks here. Old-time fans may skip straight to the brief two minute delight of 'Distant Shore', guitar and voice - many fans would prefer his to be just this way, even now. Well, if he did that, we'd miss out on the likes of the title track here which has lyrics and music worthy and reminiscent of Ian Dury and the Blockheads. It's lumpy and thumpy and a bit weird, yet remains a delight lyrically, and musically just about manages to be fun. Album opener 'St Monday' attempts to seemingly carry on from where Bragg left off with the 'Mermaid Avenue' albums, yet lacks the grace of those particular sets - the playing lacking finesse.

    Along with the title track, the other lyrically noteworthy point Bragg makes here is the relatively controversial 'Take Down The Union Jack', Bragg accompanies himself with electric guitar, providing a relatively sparse backing - the lyrics clearly the key message here. We do like our Bragg open and honest though, don't we? Well, of course we do. This is the kind of stuff that won us over to the Bragg cause in the first place. 'Baby Faoukh' and 'Another Kind Of Judy' meanwhile make good use of the backing band, particular the latter which has a plesant jingle-jangle 60s pop feel. Overall, 'England, Half English' is a solid album with enough different arrangements to ensure it doesn't become just another Billy Bragg album. Who apart from the already converted will be listening, though?

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    Mr Love & Justice ( 2008 )
    I Keep Faith / I Almost Killed You / M For Me / Beach Is Free / Sing Their Souls Back Home / You Make Me Brave / Something Happened / Mr Love And Justice / If You Ever Leave / O Freedom / Johnny Carcinogenic Show / Farm Boy

    In search of fresh rhubarb for a crumble, Bragg stumbled upon Robert Wyatt, who found him some rhubarb and then attended the sessions for Bragg's 'I Keep Faith', lending his distinctive voice to the choruses. Bragg's first new album in six years sees him joined again by his Blokes and also seems to feature a mellow, happy Billy Bragg - just turned 50. Give it a couple of years, when the conservatives get back in power, i'm sure we'll see some pointed barbs in the direction of the blue party, yet for the cleverly titled 'Mr Love & Justice', Bragg works best when being sentimental and romantic. Well, I say that because all the other reviews have said that already. What I actually mean is that 'Mr Love And Justice' is something of a 'so what?' album. It doesn't have any particular theme or point of being, other than Bragg hasn't released anything in a while. Still, 'I Almost Killed You' with its bare instrumentation, thoughtful lyrics and insistent handclaps works spectacularly well. 'Beach Is Free' is enlived no end by some Duane Eddy style guitar. The lovely 'If You Ever Leave' is classic Bragg emotional songwriting, memorable melodies and that voice, unconventional beauty but beauty nevertheless.

    Even with this clutch of great songs, and you can add the title track and 'O Freedom' to that list, too frequently it seems that Bragg has concentrated too much on making the music sound attractive, at the expense of the actual songs. The closing 'Farm Boy' is a good example. Nice little acoustic guitar lines, a sombre kind of Bragg vocal but the entire thing seems to lack energy. Other parts of the album seem to stray too far into Americana at the expense of Bragg's genuine personality. The best lyric on an album surprisingly short of great one liners arrives during 'M For Me', I've got friends that are telling me i'm living in clover but loose the c and the l and it's over baby, it's over now. It's just one of many great lines in that song, actually and I also love the parping brass parts that decorate the track instrumentally. Overall, 'Mr Love And Justice' is a decent, intelligent collection of songs, it just doesn't have any essential Bragg moments of brilliance to pick it up a little more.

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    this page last updated 19/04/09


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