Mermaid Avenue – Women, Fish, Wilco and Bragg

My brother Dan gets full credit for suggesting I give this one a listen.  I did not embrace it as much as he apparently did back in the day… I mean, I knew it and I liked it, but for whatever reason it just did not stick.

I listen to so many things, that some albums just slip through the cracks.  While this is unfortunate, as I am sure I have missed some gems, I am trying to be more patient, give things multiple listens, and am a lot more willing now to go back and re-examine things I might have lost .

Mermaid Avenue – Billy Bragg and Wilco (1988)

Dan e-mailed me the other day to say he had picked this one back up and had been listening to it non-stop.  I figured that was a pretty good endorsement.  Aside from a few things here and there, we have pretty similar tastes… Although I cannot get him to sit down and listen to Trashcan Sinatras, which may cause some familial problems when I see him in a few weeks.

The album is previously unheard Woody Guthrie lyrics set to music and performed by Billy Bragg and Wilco.  Nora Guthrie, Woody’s daughter, organized this album.  There was a second volume that came out in 2000 and I’ll have to track that down, too.  The title comes from a Guthrie song “Mermaid’s Avenue.” It is also the name of the street he lived on in Coney Island, NY.  That’s Brooklyn, baby!  Thanks again Wikipedia!!!  I sure hope Justin Bieber fans don’t stalk this page!

Man in the Sand is a documentary that chronicles this project, so I guess that’s going on my Netflix list now!  Hold on a minute… )(*&^%$#%^&*()_!!!  It’s apparently not available… Hmmm… That may be a challenge to track down.  I’ll keep you posted.

Anyway… this received a Grammy nom for Best Contemporary Folk Album.  I know Wilco quite well and am a big fan, and this goes back to their days as Uncle Tupelo.  Jeff Tweedy is as much of genius as they say… and he ain’t bad as a music historian and collaborator either.  Although make one thing clear… Wilco IS Jeff Tweedy’s band.  Sadly band member Jay Bennett died in 2009… although he was kicked out of the band in 2001.

I only have a superficial knowledge of Billy Bragg, but my initial exploration is providing some good listening.  If Joe Strummer had become a folk singer, this is what it might have been like.

On Mermaid Avenue, there is a clear difference between the styles of Bragg and Tweedy (I need to see who wrote what) but it all flows together nicely.   I saw Bruce on the “Seeger Sessions” tour several times, and this album reminds me a lot of that in its tone and feel… great Americana music that revives you and lifts you up.  Actually, I wonder why Nora did not offer these lyrics to Bruce.  Would have loved to hear his take.
Apparently, Bob Dylan claims that Woody wanted him to have them but the family did not give them to him.
The absolute standout is “Way Over in the Minor Key” (with Natalie Merchant on backup vocals).  A stunner for sure.  But I also love “California Stars,” “Walt Whitman’s Niece,” “Hoodoo Voodoo,” and “Ingrid Bergman.”
You know what, the younger brother is right… this whole album is a folk/rock jewel.  This will be in my heavy rotation for a while, too.
Just don’t tell him I said that!
But do tell him to get off his keyster and listen to TCS.

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Filed under Marc's Playlist - Music That Moves Me, One Thumb - My Movie Reviews

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