Day 105: Billy Bragg & Wilco – Mermaid Avenue

13 Jun

One by One

With this post, we’ll be bringing the glorious and wonderful Wilco Week to a close.  I know, it’s really sad.  Yes, I also know that it hasn’t been a full week.  In order to make this feature a full week, I’d have to listen to another Wilco release tomorrow, and I don’t feel like pushing Dad-Rock Tuesday to Wednesday, because then it’d be called “Dad-Rock Tuesday on Wednesday” (DRToW), which sounds stupid.  Six days is close enough to a week, and there’s no way that I will refer to this as Wilco Almost a Week.  This is Swole Ear, not an encyclopedia.  Accuracy (and understandable writing) are not that important.

Okay, so there’s no way around it—this album is a weird concept.  In the late nineties, Nora Guthrie got Billy Bragg (an English singer-songwriter) and Wilco (an alt country Chicago band) together, handed them a bunch of previously unheard Woodie Guthrie lyrics, and told them to go nuts.  Mermaid Avenue, Volumes I and II are the results of those strange occurances.  And, Volume I at least, sounds really good.

I found that Mermaid Avenue is much more enjoyable when you don’t think too hard about what you’re listening to.  Because, when you think about it, you realize that you’re hearing a guy who kind of sounds like Elvis Costello, along with Jeff Tweedy, singing depression-era songs about depression-era things, which is undeniably strange. Also, (don’t) keep in mind, Summerteeth-era Wilco (the band’s poppiest moment) arranged all of the music.

So don’t think too deeply, and you’ll be fine.  Guthrie was a great songwriter, and it’s not like these were his crappy B-Sides that he sent out to the fan club or anything.  It sure sounds like he just never got around to playing this stuff.  Wilco and Bragg make these songs their own, though.  Listen to One By One.  It wouldn’t be out of place on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot as-is, Guthrie lyrics and all.   Sometimes weird stuff works.


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