With his first studio album for five years, Billy Bragg is most certainly back…..only now we see the more relaxed-into-middle-age Bragg, an album about love, loss and hope, as opposed to fight, struggle and protest. As much as this album lacks a bit of the old fiery protest singer, what it does show is that Billy has lost none of his songwriting skills: touching and poignant throughout.
The album has a definite Americana influence, lots of slide guitar and a country feel in places. Bragg still manages to produce an album that feels perfectly balanced between the polemical and the out-and-out love songs.
The album is littered with the songs of struggle – only now it is the struggle with relationships, loneliness and loss. As much as Bragg is associated with protest songs, he does, in my opinion, sing about love even better. Take 'Your Name on my Tongue' a song about love and longing, or 'Handyman Blues' a wry look at modern relationships.
“I'm not any good at pottery, so let's lose a 't' and shift back the 'e', and I'll find a way to make my poetry build a roof over our heads”
Following on from the Mermaid Avenue album's of Guthrie lyrics put to music, Bragg has included one Woody cover: 'I Ain't got no Home' – an anthemic track about a migrant worker trying to survive the depression the 1930s.
He does still sing about changing the world, but in a calmer, less anxious way: 'Tomorrow's Going to be a Better Day', 'There Will be a Reckoning' and 'Do Unto Others' all have something to say about people and politicians alike, but with a softer tone and more philosophical approach – perhaps Bragg is mellowing in his old age!
“There will be a reckoning for the pedlars of hate who spread their poison all across this estate and a reckoning too for the politicians who left us to this fate”
Overall, 'Tooth and Nail' is a great album, it has a back-to-basics feel to it, it feels like we are welcoming an old friend back…