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Mermaid Avenue
by Billy Bragg and Wilco

See also Mermaid Avenue Vol. 2

We first became aware of Englishman Billy Bragg in 1992 when he was invited to perform at New York City's "Summerstage" birthday celebration for Woody.  Billy had a special comraderie with all the performers.  Although he had come out of a punk rock background, he could sing along with the country western singers, the folkies and just about everyone else that appeared in the show.  When he accompanied rappers Disposable Heroes of Hypocrisy on "Vigilante Man", we were blown away.  He seemed open to anything and everything.  His wry sense of humor, reminiscent of Woody's, also caught our attention immediately.

Years later, after hearing more about his own work, we decided he would be the perfect candidate to set new music to some of Woody's unknown lyrics that we had found in the archives.  These lyrics had never been recorded, and there was no record of any music written.  We tried to select lyrics that most people wouldn't imagine that the "Dust Bowl Balladeer" would have written: songs about New York City streets, songs about film star idols, songs about drinking, loving, dying and even songs about spaceships!  Songs that would expand Woody's "historical" personae and give him a vehicle that, as a 20th century songwriter, was as yet unexplored.

After a few days looking through the archives Billy took on the project and invited roots-rockers Wilco to collaborate with him.  For a year lyrics and demos were sent back and forth to London, Billy's home town, until an initial selection of songs was made.  Recordings began in Chicago, Wilco's home town, and then in Dublin, Ireland where fiddler Eliza Carthey and bluesman Corey Harris came to add their talents.  Natalie Merchant recorded some additional tunes with Billy afterwards in Boston.

"Mermaid Avenue" was released in June, 1998.  The reviews, the performances, the spirit of it all was wild and cathartic.   Billy Bragg and Wilco brought Woody back to life with a sound that raised the roofs of the old barns.  Just what Woody would have done.

Jeff Tweedy playing a mini guitar

Mermaid Avenue Group Shot

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