When you first heard that Billy Bragg and Wilco were teaming up to set some Woody Guthrie lyrics to music, you knew it'd be an interesting project. But did anyone realistically think Mermaid Avenue
would also wind up being one of 1998's finest albums? That's exactly what it is, a distinction it pulls off by simultaneously honouring Guthrie and blasting away any folksy expectations we might have of his music. Walking Guthrie's World War II-era lyrics into the 20th century's second, rock & roll half, Bragg and Wilco's Jeff Tweedy take turns on lead vocals, and the entire group collaborates on a sound that draws on folk- and country-rock, from Bob Dylan and the Band to Gram Parsons and Uncle Tupelo. The results are nearly flawless, ranging from yearning laments and playful children's rockers to horny ballads and brave protest songs that are not merely political but also profoundly moral. Like all of Guthrie's work, Mermaid Avenue
is music to live better by. --David Cantwell
Hit 1998 album of rare Woody Guthrie song lyrics set to original music.