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During the spring of 1995, Woody Guthrie's daughter Nora contacted British urban folk troubadour Billy Bragg about writing music for a selection of completed Guthrie lyrics. This was no minor task -- Guthrie left behind over a thousand sets of complete lyrics written between 1939 and 1967 that had no music other than a vague stylistic notation. Bragg chose a number of songs to finish, as did Jeff Tweedy of the alt-country band Wilco (often with bandmate Jay Bennett). Nora Guthrie impressed a common goal upon them: Rather than recreating Guthrie tunes, they should write as if they were collaborating with Woody, creating new, vital music for the lyrics. Both artists completed more songs than could fit on Mermaid Avenue, which is neatly split between Bragg and Wilco, with Bragg taking lead on eight of the 15 songs. The results are almost entirely a delight, mainly because all involved are faithful to Guthrie's rowdy spirit -- it's a reverent project that knows how to have fun. There are many minor, irresistible gems scattered throughout the album, and most of them come from Bragg. Where Wilco's fine contributions sound inextricably tied to the '90s, both for better and for worse, Bragg's music sounds contemporary while capturing Guthrie's folk traditions. That's not to say Wilco's contributions are failures -- it's just hard to imagine Guthrie singing the plaintive "California Stars" or the plodding "Christ for President," neither of which quite fit the lyrics. Nevertheless, their hearts are in the right place; more often than not, they come close to the target, and their joyous playing invigorates Mermaid Avenue. The blend of Bragg's traditionalist sensibility and Wilco's contemporary style ultimately illustrates that Guthrie's words, ideals, and aesthetics remain alive in the '90s. It's a remarkable record that deserves a sequel.
|Label:||Elektra / Wea|
Performance CreditsBilly Bragg Primary Artist,Acoustic Guitar,Vocals
Wilco Primary Artist,Vocals
Jay Bennett Organ,Bouzouki,Piano,Drums,Hammond Organ,Background Vocals,Clavinet
Ken Coomer Percussion,Drums
Natalie Merchant Vocals,Background Vocals,Vocal Harmony
John Stirratt Piano,Electric Bass,Background Vocals,Acoustic Bass
Jeff Tweedy Acoustic Guitar,Harmonica,Electric Guitar,Vocals,Track Performer
Peter Yanowitz Drums
Eliza Carthy Violin
Corey Harris Guitar,Electric Guitar,Lap Steel Guitar
Bob Egan Slide Guitar
Technical CreditsBilly Bragg Producer
Jerry Boys Engineer
Grant Showbiz Producer
Mike Hagler Engineer
Nora Guthrie Executive Producer
Matthew Ellard Engineer
Scott Eisenberg Engineer
Dave Trumfio Engineer
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Mermaid Avenue based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
One of the greatest CD's I've ever heard! A must hear.
I love this album! I discovered it and the second volume about two weeks ago and I listen to them most days. They present a side of Guthrie that I never realized existed- more personal than some songs that are more famous, like ''This Land is Your Land''. Perhaps this is because he never released them. It highlights the tragedy of his degeneration with Huntington's Disease.
This collection is one of the finest ever. I was first introduced to the album when I watched a documentary on the making of it. Every track is 100% pure talent. Woody's lyrics mixed with the cow-punk sounds of Wilco, along with the recognizable voice of Billy Bragg make this CD a real winner. I promise you will not be dissapointed. Also note that there is a second volume: Mermaid Ave. II.... enjoy.
Mermaid Avenue is one of my favourite Woody Guthrie albums. Actually, this is my first exploration in his protest-inspired, traditional folk sound. Other influential musicians such as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, U2, and Pete Seeger are among his disciples. It would be even more refreshing today to allow Woody listen to this modern compilation & comment on its textural, organic beauty. Mermaid Avenue is one of those rare records where the lyrics, the chords, and the messages of love, peace, justice, and redemption interconnect. Billy Bragg is one of those traditional musicians who reveres Woody's position on such topical themes. He was a radical, compassionate thinker in some aspects of interpretation. He broke through the norms of conformist society and created new melodic laws of the Universe. Wilco is another influence of Woody's legacy. Jeffy Tweedy's melancholy voice compliments such ethereal ballads as "California Stars", one of the highlights of this landmark album. Natalie Merchant was the lead vocalist of a small folk pop band called 10,000 Maniacs. Her angelic, feminine voice provides substance to the rest of these masculine, muscular songs. She sings with such an uplifting, clean, and idyllic voice few can duplicate. Basically, Mermaid Avenue is a child of Woody's inspiration. A fragile child which has grown up to be a sensitive, strong man. This album is as flawless as the lines on the face of the earth.