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Published On: Sun, May 13th, 2012

Billy Bragg & Wilco: Mermaid Avenue – The Complete Sessions

Billy Bragg & Wilco
Mermaid Avenue – The Complete Sessions
(Nonesuch)

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The unrecorded songs of the folk legend Woody Guthrie have been trickling out for a few years now as the family asks different musicians to record them. But with Woody’s 100th birthday celebration this year, one of the first (and best) Guthrie projects, Mermaid Avenue by Billy Bragg & Wilco, has been re-released in its entirety. The box set includes the first two albums from 1998 and 2000 along with a new album featuring 17 new tracks and a documentary about the project entitled Man in the Sand.
The initial Mermaid Avenue release is still the favorite thanks to terrific songs like “California Stars,” “Walt Whitman’s Niece,” and “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key,” which also features Natalie Merchant. There are also a number of great songs on Mermaid Avenue II such as “Airline to Heaven” and “Someday Some Morning Sometime.” The new material includes some non-Guthrie’s songs and is mostly consistent with the earlier releases in term of its breadth and quality with songs like “When the Roses Bloom Again,” “I’m Out to Get,” and “Gotta Work,” which features some noteworthy guitar work.

What’s really astonishing when listening to the sessions in their entirety is the diversity of styles, tempos, and sounds that the songs produced, which really gives a sense of appreciation for both the musicians and to Guthrie whose reputation as a songwriter has become unfairly simplified posthumously. Anyone whose a fan of the man, the genre, or the many musicians he influenced from Dylan to Tweedy needs to spend some time with these songs.

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Billy Bragg & Wilco: Mermaid Avenue – The Complete Sessions