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Billy Bragg – Tooth & Nail album review

The singer-songwriter returns with a solid new album.

Billy Bragg
Credit: Cooking Vinyl

Billy Bragg’s Tooth & Nail album is his first studio album in over five years. The difference with this album, compared to his previous releases, is that he draws on personal, rather than political themes. Bragg says that his new album is a stylistic follow-up to his previous, landmark releases. As usual, he deals with such weighty matters as love, death and the meaning or meaninglessness of life. Interestingly, Tooth & Nail was recorded over a whirlwind five-day session! And it was recorded with Grammy award winning producer Joe Henry. Joe takes Bragg out of his comfort zone on this record and all of the vocals were recorded live, without retakes or overdubs and it’s great to listen to something so fresh. The spontaneous result is a return to the rootsy sound of 19998’s Mermaid Avenue that he recorded with Wilco.

The album starts off with gorgeous bluesy number called January Song. The vocals are drawling and soothing. The music is gentle and relaxing. It has a great unwinding feel to it that simply flows from beginning to end. No One Knows Nothing Anymore continues with this feel, although it has a much brighter sound, added with a few crashing symbols and simple arrangement that makes it lovely to listen to.

Handyman Blues sounds like you’ve turned up in a remote little town in the Wild, Wild, West. The song takes you to that place and that’s where you picture yourself when you listen to this song. You can hear his London drawl most distinctively on this song and the lyrics are a little quirky, how many other songs can you name that refer to a handyman? We like it! Bragg gives us a story-telling song on I Ain’t Got No Home, which displays his great talent of writing vivid lyrics. He goes all melancholy on us with Swallow My Pride, the vocals are again drawling and soothing and its simplicity is again the making of the song.

The album notches up a gear on There Will Be A Reckoning, with a much faster pace in comparison to the other songs on the album. The lyrics are a little darker than the other songs heard so far, yet the melody is catchy and in our opinion the most captivating on the album. This is one of those songs that would have the crowd clapping along at his live shows in no time at all, we think this will be a crowd-pleaser. Other standouts on the album include Do Unto Others, featuring a barreling piano and blending riotousness with righteousness and the straight-up, old-school country flavoured Chasing Rainbows.

The album finishes with Tomorrow’s Going To Be A Better Day. How nice of him to finish the album on a high for us. Well, given this weather – let’s hope so! It’s meant to be spring, right? What’s with all the snow?! Well, thanks for finishing with this song Billy, because the care-free whistling in the song is infectious and it’s hard not to copy it! We’re pursing our lips together right now and whistling along …. we really love this album and we give it a huge thumbs up.

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