Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Billy Bragg - Reaching to the Converted

Stephen William Bragg (born December 20, 1957 in Essex, England), better known as Billy Bragg, is an English musician who blends elements of folk music, punk rock and protest songs. His lyrics mostly deal with political or romantic themes. His music career has lasted more than 20 years, and he has collaborated with Johnny Marr, Leon Rosselson, members of R.E.M., Michelle Shocked, Less Than Jake, Kirsty MacColl, and Wilco.

Personnel: Billy Bragg (vocals, acoustic & electric guitars); Cara Tivey (vocals, recorder, piano, harmonium, keyboards); Robert Handley (vocals); Johnny Marr (various instruments, acoustic guitar); Wiggy, Kenny Jones (guitar); John Porter (mandolin); Amanda Vincent (piano); Nigel Frydman, Andy Hobson (bass); Rob Allum, J.F.T. Hood (drums); Jody Linscott (percussion); Lorraine Bowen, Kirsty MacColl (background vocals).

Producers include: Johnny Marr, Grant Showbiz, Gary Smith, John Porter, Edward de Bono.

Combine the confusion of modern man with the infectious enthusiasm of a small boy, and you've got Billy Bragg. REACHING TO THE CONVERTED, a mixture of one-offs and studio doodles that never quite made the final cut, has both qualities in abundance.

"Shirley," the album's uptempo opener, demonstrates Bragg's mastery of the contemporary British urban couplet ("How can you lie back and think of England / When you don't even know who's in the team?"), while Johnny Marr's fine production proves the perfect foil for Bragg's direct vocal approach. Bragg still wears his left-wing heart on a red shirtsleeve ("Days Like These"), and he's never afraid to have his say on a serious matter; but he manages to do so without smugness. Unlike other troubadours, Bragg prefers writing about being in love to writing about being out of it, and a sense of real warmth and humanity always comes through ("We'll dance in the town till the sun goes down / And push our beds together"). Whether standing on his soapbox or musing on his calf-love ordeals, Bragg matches the voice of a football fan with the heart of a poet.

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