Billy Bragg & Wilco – Mermaid Avenue Vol. II

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 7)

While I am disappointed that Billy Bragg’s career has tailed off, I am pretty satisfied with this, the last great Bragg work. It’s entirely fitting that this is how his part in my collection ends. I hope he one day returns to his roots, but even if not, he remains one of my favorite artists, and I admire his humanity as much as his artistry.

What I Think of This Album

The sequel is better than the original. Guthrie had thousands of lyrics lying around, so it’s no surprise that not only is there a second act but that Bragg and Wilco were able to cherry-pick from the pile. Of course, not all the credit goes to Guthrie. Bragg and Wilco wrote some excellent music and turned in very strong performances this time around. Shit, I even like Natalie Merchant’s singing on the pretty “I Was Born,” propped up by Bragg’s surprisingly delicate guitar.

Among the many standouts are the pop masterpiece “Secret of the Sea,” on which Jay Bennett plays, like, 5,000,000 instruments (though the fine bass work is all John Stirratt’s). Almost as impressive is the ramshackle “Airline to Heaven.” And the gorgeous ballad “Remember the Mountain Bed” is a song few bands could pull off. The thrumming, brooding “Blood of the Lamb” is memorable, with an opening drum that mimics Satan’s heartbeat and stellar organ work from Bennett.

Bragg contributes the rousing “All You Fascists,” which relies on Bennett’s slide guitar and harmonica (and Stirratt’s bass), and the brittle and shambling “My Flying Saucer,” with some sweet backwards guitar, as well as Merchant’s showcase. On top of this, he adds the joyous “Joe DiMaggio Done It Again” and collaborates with neo-acoustic-bluesman Corey Harris (I admit I’d never heard of him before) on the humorous absurdist complaint “Aginst Th’ Law.” Plus, Bragg shines on the campaign song “Stetson Kennedy,” written for the activist and author who ran for the governorship of Florida in 1952. There are a few duds here and there, but overall this is an outstanding collection.

One of the engineers on this was Dave Trumfio of the Pulsars.

The Best Thing About This Album

It’d be very easy to say that Wilco wins again, with “Secret of the Sea,” but the fact is that the best thing about this album is Jay Bennett, whose tremendous talent was crucial to this album.

Release Date

May, 2000

The Cover Art

If you’re going to put a cat on your album cover, it had better be a great fucking cover to overcome that kind of liability. I like the text but other than that, this one goes in the trash bin.

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