Release Date: Mar 19, 2013
Record label: Cooking Vinyl Records
Genre(s): Folk, Pop/Rock
He’s always been a bit of a softy, has our Bill. The wider populace’s default view of Bragg is that of a leftish firebrand with a noisy guitar and a neat line in soundbites but, throughout his 30-year career, he’s frequently shown his tender side, and Tooth & Nail is probably the most accurate and all-encompassing illustration of the great man’s worth. This is a very personal album, recorded in five quick days almost a year ago, but held back until other dates in his diary – not least a series of events to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of his hero Woody Guthrie – had been given full attention.
Aline such as "My journey has been so hard lately" attests to the fact that even the effervescent Bragg sometimes gets the blues. Recorded in a five-day blitz with Californian producer Joe Henry, Tooth & Nail is a downbeat affair, its mood softened by deft Americana backings and Bragg's adopted mid-Atlantic accent. Swallow My Pride and Handyman Blues are bruised relationship songs, while the two overtly political outings, There Will Be a Reckoning, which rails against "the peddlers of hate", and a touching cover of Woody Guthrie's I Ain't Got No Home, sound more exhausted than angry.
The British folk scene's singer-songwriter elite have a new way to record great albums: find a leading American producer with a home studio, and move in for a rapid recording session. It's what Richard Thompson did with Buddy Miller in Nashville, and now Billy Bragg has released his classiest-sounding album to date, working with Joe Henry in Pasadena. His voice sounds better than ever, helped by a distinguished backing band that includes pedal steel exponent Greg Leisz, and the songs are mostly bleak and personal, rather than political.
Billy BraggTooth and Nail(Cooking Vinyl)Rating: 4 out of 5 starsStream the album On his first album in five years, Billy Bragg gets back to basics on Tooth and Nail, an album that’s musically stripped to the bare minimum: recorded live, without the “benefit” of overdubs, in less than a week. Real music by real people, in other words. It’s Bragg’s voice that’s most prominent of course: warm and resonant, but also mournful at times, tinged with regret, that of an old soul looking at the world and shaking his head at its follies.
Billy Bragg has said that his new LP Tooth & Nail stemmed from someone pointing out to him that he writes about love as much as politics. It’s always been true that he writes as well about love as he does politics, often better. Many of his most powerful songs are about unrequited love – “A New England” (specifically about not wanting to change the world), “Greetings to the New Brunette”, “Must I Paint You a Picture”.
"January Song," the bluesy leadoff track from veteran English folkie Billy Bragg's first solo outing since 2008's Mr. Love and Justice, begins with the lyric "I'm so tightly wound in tension" and ends with "This is how the world ends," signaling a shift from the stalwart political activism of previous outings to a more internalized dialogue that suggests a subtle re-positioning of the magnifying glass. Bragg has always tempered his political leanings with matters of the heart, and the weepy "Chasing Rainbows" and sad and soulful "Your Name on My Tongue" rank as two of his more intimate offerings, suggesting a recent emotional upheaval that needed a basement in Pasadena, California to find catharsis.
When a fan on Twitter called Billy Bragg "the sherpa of heartbreak," the controversial-cum-contemplative songwriter took note and wrote a record steeped in matters of the heart. Tooth & Nail marks Bragg's 13th album — his first in five years — and is at times so unhurried one might suspect it was recorded at a meditation retreat (in fact it was finished in five days at producer Joe Henry's house). But the slowed-down, sorrowful songs on Tooth & Nail are no sign of softening.
Thirty years on from his debut, Billy Bragg has never been in better voice. His anger might have mellowed and matured, but it is nonetheless all present and correct as he has settled into the role of leftist national treasure nicely (a role he shares with Tony Benn). And there is still plenty for him to doggedly oppose and rail against. Despite this, Tooth & Nail is a relatively subdued affair that sees Bragg in a contemplative state.
Billy Bragg follows in a long line of singer-songwriters – Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Ewan MacColl and (of course) Woody Guthrie to name but four – whose work has been inspired by the tensions and overlaps between the personal and the political. Nothing sums this up better than the fact that, while he is perhaps most commonly viewed as the combative socialist who doggedly opposed the Conservatives throughout the ’80s and ’90s, his most famous lyric remains “I don’t want to change the world, I’m not looking for a new England – I’m just looking for another girl. ” It was with a wry humour, then, that he named his previous 2008 studio album Mr Love & Justice.
BILLY BRAGG plays the Danforth Music Hall on Friday (May 3). See listing. Rating: NNN On Billy Bragg's latest album, the 55-year-old lefty folk-punk musician is more contemplative and melancholic than on his last collection of originals, 2008's energetic Mr. Love & Justice. Tooth & Nail's dozen ….
Between fiscal cliffs, a perilous economic recession, talk of drone attacks, and an overall cultural climate sharply divided between Democrats and Republicans and red and blue states, sometimes it feels like the fate of the world is hanging in a delicate balance. Billy Bragg, however, is a man built for these difficult times. A Dylan-esque poet with a punk rock heart, Bragg has built an earnest career over the past 30 years, one defined by a flagrant disregard for the status quo and a willingness to chomp away at the hand that feeds him.
Bragg conveys truths about his home country like few other songwriters can. Mischa Pearlman 2013 Billy Bragg’s first studio album since 2008’s Mr Love & Justice – and his 13th in total – presents a very laidback, mellow side of the activist and singer. Recorded in South Pasadena, California by producer Joe Henry, these 12 songs, much like his collaborations with Wilco in 1998 and 2000, are infused heavily with Americana and country influences.
"This is how the end begins," intones Billy Bragg softly on "January Song," opening track to the venerable UK songwriter's first studio album in five years. Less a pessimistic declaration than a call for release, the tune sets a contemplative tone that rings throughout, whether on the politically existential "No One Knows Nothing Anymore," a dire, downtrodden take on Woody Guthrie's "I Ain't Got No Home," or the personally wrenched "Swallow My Pride. " Bragg drips these songs with a country feel, steel guitar keeping sorrowful company on "Over You" and "Chasing Rainbows," though the latter's choral plea, "Don't let my complacent mind belie my loving heart," may be a first for honky-tonk.