Bragg addresses roots

Mar 062002
Authors: Phil Davidson

Fresh off his consecutive Grammy nominated collaborations with alt-country rockers, Wilco, English singer-songwriter Billy Bragg’s latest album is loaded with political commentary regarding his beloved homeland. Bragg’s previous efforts, “Mermaid Avenue” Volumes I and II, gave him the chance of a lifetime to record lyrics penned by American folk hero Woody Guthrie. The politically astute songwriter’s latest album, “England, Half English,” is his first collection of songs since 1996. The album, which hit stores on Tuesday, reflects Bragg’s own social commentary on what it means to be “half English.”

The title “England, Half English” was first coined by the English writer Colin MacInnes to describe the way 1950s society was becoming progressively more informed by diverse cultures and attitudes. England was under influences ranging from American pop music to the impact of post-war African and West Indian communities in England. Forty years later, Billy Bragg has revitalized the idea to reclaim “Englishness” from those who have co-opted it for their own racist and political ideologies.

The album’s title track remarks on the melting pot of cultures that represent modern day England.

The first single, “NPWA” (No Power Without Accountability) lends Bragg’s voice to the corruptions of a corporate society, much akin to our own situation.

The backing band on the current album is Bragg’s former touring band, The Blokes. Among the members is legendary keyboardist Ian McLagan, formerly of The Faces. The others are lap steel guitarist Ben Mandelson, guitarist Lu Edmonds, drummer Martyn Barker and bassist Simon Edwards. After a successful 1999 UK tour, it would appear this collaboration might now be permanent.

“England, Half English” boasts some incredibly well crafted songs. Bragg’s punk influenced guitar strums and McLagan’s dexterous piano skill provide for some catchy beats and melodies. Add to this backdrop Bragg’s witty yet poignant lyrics, and an impressive album emerges. n

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