Firebrand singer lays down his weapons on mellow album
Album Review: Billy Bragg Tooth & Nail (Cooking Vinyl) ****
Having come of age during the punk revolution, Billy Bragg was a firebrand in the turbulent Britain of Thatcher's 1980s.
He railed against injustice and intolerance and did so with insight and vigour.
His reputation for keenly observed songcraft is assured.
This is his 13th album and while there are moments that are politicised, it's a largely mellow work that's driven by themes of loss, redemption and contentment. There's even a song (Handyman Blues) in which he proclaims his utter uselessness at DIY. It could have been written for me.
The album was recorded with a small band of musicians over a period of days and was produced by the respected musician and Grammy-winning producer Joe Henry in his Los Angeles studio.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there's a strong Americana flavour to these songs, not least in those moments when he eschews his Essex accent.
Goodbye, Goodbye is a desperately sad song that tugs on the heartstrings while the gospel-inflected, Bible-alluding Do Onto Others is a heart-warming philosophy for living.
Elsewhere, there's a reverential, faithful cover Woody Guthrie song I Ain't Got No Home and some robust capitalist-bashing on There Will Be A Reckoning.
The latter is redolent of Bruce Springsteen, especially in its muscular, sing-along chorus.
Best of the bunch is No-one Knows Nothing Anymore in which he poses a question that's been asked since time began: "What if there's nothing, No big answer to find, What if we're just passing through time?"
Bragg's anger may have subsided – for now – but the 55-year-old's passion for exemplary songwriting remains undimmed. We'll celebrate that.
No One Knows Anything Anymore; There Will Be A Reckoning