England / Half English (Elektra)
Reviewed by Dan Oko, Fri., March 29, 2002
Billy BraggEngland/Half English (Elektra) Hard to imagine that Billy Bragg hasn't released an album of original songs since 1996. Once recognized in the U.S. mostly for his sardonic college-radio hits, Bragg's Mermaid Avenue collaborations with Wilco have earned the left-tilting Englishman a broader stateside following. Now, Bragg's back in the act with his own band the Blokes -- featuring Austin's legendary Ian McLagan -- and his own set list, singing about the working people, political injustice, and the incertitude of romantic love. You could say that Bragg's Mermaid Avenue apprenticeship with the father of American folk singers, Woody Guthrie, has paid off. England/Half English demonstrates how appropriate it was in the first place that Bragg helped polish up Guthrie's songs. His forthright style, humor, and indignation have been apparent since he debuted as a one-man, unplugged answer to the Clash in the Eighties, while the Blokes have evolved into a dynamite backup band, folding Bragg's own lyrics into tight jams at every opportunity. Winners include the world-beat influenced "Baby Faroukh," the ode to fidelity "Jane Allen," and the timely "NPWA" with its rousing lyric "IMF, WTO, I hear these words just every place I go. Who are these people? Who elected them? And how do I replace them with some of my friends?" Given the rush toward globalization and the corporate co-opting of the White House, this generation could do a lot worse to find a spokesman like Billy Bragg.