14
Jun
16

Billy Bragg and Wilco “Mermaid Avenue Vol. II”

This record caught my attention because of the life-size photo of a tabby cat slightly out of focus in a crude, black and white photo-collage of some old cars and buildings, presumably depicting Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island. I was just there, and had I known, I might have made a pilgrimage, and had a little more focus rather than just being sad. But this is the first I’ve heard of this record, which is a project initiated by Woody Guthrie’s daughter, Nora, to put music to some of Woody’s tons of lyrics he left behind when he died. I imagine that any number of songwriters would have loved to get a chance to write music to these lyrics, but it was Billy Bragg and Wilco (including Jay Bennett)—and then they made some fine recordings, and albums and box sets were released, all too involved for me to go into, but anyway, this is Vol. II, with a huge cat on the cover.

There is so much variety here I can’t even begin to mentally encapsulate it. I wonder what Woody Guthrie would think! On my first listen I felt a little annoyed, just because there is so much all over the place, and so much confident instrument playing that I thought, these are a bunch of guys you probably can’t tell anything. And while that is probably true, I warmed up to it more on subsequent listens, like right now. Some I like way better than others, but some songs I’m liking a lot. There are a few songs that sound VERY familiar, so I must have heard them somewhere, and I’d imagine most likely in some coffee shop. Anyway, I feel like I’m committing the largest sin in not paying much attention to the lyrics, and that’s where you could go very much deeper, of course. There’s a lyric sheet, which is nice for those of us with hearing/making out words problems (if there’s a word for that). And if you want to go deeper, there’s Vol. One, of course, and then I guess there’s a complete set with outtakes and other stuff, so you can really get emerged. And I suppose if you wanted to go even further, as a songwriter, you could contact Nora Guthrie about possibly making another record of more songs based on more of Woody’s lyrics. I’m sure you won’t be the first one to make such a request.

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