by Billy Bragg and Wilco
also Mermaid Avenue Vol. 2
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.
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.
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.
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.