Friday, March 19, 2010

CD of the Day: ‘Mermaid Avenue,’ Billy Bragg & Wilco (1998)

Working from a set of unreleased lyrics from Woodie Guthrie, Wilco’s inspired collaboration with Billy Bragg yielded a handful of the band’s best songs, which continue to pop up in live sets more than a decade later. Their two standouts from this disc are the lilting “California Stars” and soaring “One By One.” Other highlights include “At My Window Sad and Lonely” and rollicking “Hoodoo Voodoo.”

Bragg certainly isn’t to be overlooked on this album, either. “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key” may be the best song of the entire collection (it should sound familiar to anyone who knows The Gaslight Anthem’s “Red at Night”), and all 1 minute, 51 seconds of “Ingrid Bergman” is arresting stuff. Natalie Merchant, meanwhile, made a fan out of me immediately with her ethereal background vocal on “Minor Key” and lead take on “Birds and Ships.”

Though Bragg was the originator of this project, it’s Wilco who drive these songs home. Their blend of folk, country, and rock is all over tracks like “Hesitating Beauty,” “She Came Along to Me,” and the rousing “I Guess I Planted.”

Grade: A-

Favorite Track: “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key”

Other Favorite Track: “One By One”

Least Favorite Track: “Christ for President”

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