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on 27 June 2000
I didn't think that Mermaid Avenue Vol I could be bettered, but unbelievabley, it has been! The same artists appear on Vol II and instead of it being a "bits that didn't quite make it onto the first album" compilation it actually surpasses the original. "Black Wind Blowing" and "Someday, Some Morning, Sometime" are achingly beautiful and are a perfect ending to an album which hits you with sadness, humour and a social conscience which seems to be missing from most comtemporary music. Album of the year, without a doubt - buy it!
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Billy Bragg and Wilco argued over the mixing and sequencing of the original `Mermaid Avenue' album and consequently Wilco would not tour it and Bragg had to assemble `The Blokes' with whom he still tours. This decision possibly felt quite foolish when the album got full marks in most of the reviews it received, was nominated for a Grammy and was a considerable hit in both England and most importantly in Woody Guthrie's native America.

Consequently these tracks, recorded at the same sessions, were dusted down and with a Wilco only session to record `Someday Some Morning Sometime', `Remember the Mountain Bed' and `Secret of the Sea'. The tracks recorded especially for the recording are the weakest and the unused Billy Bragg compositions are the greatest collected here, some of them, most noticeably `Stetson Kennedy', `All You Fascists', `Aginst th' Law', `Joe Dimaggio Done it Again' and `Hot Rod Hotel' are better than any of the songs on the first volume. Wilco's complaint of Bragg seems justifiable, Jeff Tweedy's criteria was `pick the songs that don't suck' and although nothing sucked on `Mermaid Avenue' I can't help but think Bragg's song selection was off kilter.

His choice of kiddie's song `Hoodoo Voodoo' on volume 1 cannot compare with `My Flying Saucer' collected here and why the Natalie Merchant delivered `Birds and Ships' was picked over `I Was Born' beggars belief.
So traditionally volume 2 records are the scrapings from the bottom of the session barrels but not so this one. A real classic, probably less consistent than the first album, but when it's good it's very good, and when it's bad it's still pretty good.
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#1 HALL OF FAMEon 22 February 2003
Mermaid Avenue (1998) was one of the highlights of that year, bridgeing the gap between Wilco's Being There & Summer Teeth & showcasing Billy Bragg's varied vocals (Bragg is often seen as the very English vocalist of songs like Between the Wars & A New England. Which he is; but he has drifted towards Americana- notably with Peter Buck & Michael Stipe on 1991's wonderful You Shook Up My Neighbourhood). The idea being that Wilco & Billy Bragg put music to many lyrics of Woody Guthrie- who had died prior to writing his own music; a combination of Guthrie's lyrics from 1939 to 1955 & Bragg/Wilco's music from the mid to late 90s .There were many great songs- Ingrid Bergman, California Stars, Hoodoo Voodoo, Eisler on the Go etc; interviews revealed that there were many more songs in the vault. Hence this second collection released in 2000.
I wasn't expecting the follow-up album to be as good as the original, what I discovered was an album just as great. The opening track Airline to Heaven was famously used in the brilliant film Jesus' Son (2000)- though was recorded by Wilco alone (more spacey& Summerteeth), as All You Fascists was given a great workover by Bragg & the Blokes on a fanclub only live album (Bragg & Wilco main-man Jeff Tweedy reportedly fell out- the former wanted to tour this album, while the latter was moving towards the experimental Loose Fur/Yankee Hotel Foxtrot/Insignificance direction that would see half the Wilco line-up here leave...) .
My Flying Saucer has a great Bragg-vocal to music that sounds like the meeting point of Paul Simon & Velvet Underground (made me think of There She Goes Again with its stop/start guitars). Next track Feed of Man has a Booker-T/Jack Hammer feel, with some amazing B3 organ from Jay Bennett- this certainly has the same feel of Dylan/The Band (both albums remind me a little of The Basement Tapes- as they look back to tradition & look forward, advancing music also...)
I Was Born, as the previous albums Birds & Ships features just Bragg on acoustic guitar & ex-10,000 Maniacs vocalist & great solo artist Natalie Merchant on vocals. This is the perfect angelic interlude prior to the Tweedy-led Secret of the Sea- which emanates from a Wilco session in 1999, so has more in common with Summerteeth tracks like How to Fight Lonelines & She's a Jar.
Both Hot Rod Hotel & Stetson Kennedy see Bragg take vocals to a largely acoustic backdrop- the latter having some of those great protest lyrics: "Them war profit boys are squawking & baulking...If we fix it so you can't make money on a war/We'll akk forget what we're killing folks for"- it's lyrics like these that make me look forward to the Penguin non-fiction classic reissue of 'Bound for Glory'.
Remember the Mountain Bed is another 99-Wilco based track, up there with 98's Pieholden Suite & 2000's Radio Cure; while Blood of the Lamb is an odd ghost of a fairground style song- a repetitive drumbeat, keyboard circles & a move towards soundtrack territory (Tweedy would score Ethan Hawke's Jersey-based attempt at Cassavettes style verite). Against th' Law sees Corey Harris take lead vocals, which again adds to the diveristy of this album, his vocals reminding me a little of Richie Havens & Solomon Burke.
All You Facists sounds like electric Dylan (Highway 61/Blonde on Blonde/Live 1966) if he had heard The Clash; while Joe Dimaggio Done it Again has a similar feel to the material on O, Brother, Where Art Thou?/Down from the Mountain. Meanest Man opens a bit like a more blues approach to Nillson's Coconut- though the vocals remind me of Julian Cope in Roky Erikson-mode. Quite odd to hear Bragg on something that isn't that far from psychedlia...
Black Wind Blowing takes us back to the more traditional sound associated with Guthrie: a man & a guitar (see Bruce Springsteen's version of This Land is Your Land on the Live E-St Band Box Set). The final song sees Jeff Tweedy & Jay Bennett alone- recorded around Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Someday Some Morning Sometime is a sublime dreamlike ballad. The gorgeously romantic side of Guthrie- "Someday some morning sometime/sometime I'd like to hold your hand in mine...I'd like to tell you you're pretty and fine/Your face will smile & your eyes will shine/someday some morning sometime..."- a perfect moment to end the album & proof that Guthrie was so much more than the "Dust Bowl Balladeer" or "Protest Singer"- which I think is the point of both these volumes.
Mermaid Avenue II is a great mid-price collection, as great as the previous volume & amongst the finest albums released in the last 10 years. Proof that music that looks back doesn't have to lapse into pastiche & imitation.
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on 24 August 2013
I'm a fan of both Jeff Tweedy and Billy Bragg and it seems to me that the words of Woody Guthrie have brought out the best in both of them. Every single track in this collection has a strong tune, and whilst JT and BB have their own recognisably distinctive style, the songs sit together like a glove. Some songs are with the full band whilst others are solo efforts, and it all makes for a thoroughly enjoyable listen. I'm sure they must have had a great time putting this together.
If you want to hear both Wilco and Billy Bragg at their best, then I'd start right here.
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on 8 January 2015
My husband really likes his new CD.
Took a long time to arrive.
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on 29 August 2014
Prompt delivery, reasonable price & in good condition. Thanks.
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on 12 January 2016
The other one is better
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on 6 April 2015
Sounds good
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on 13 March 2013
Maybe he is - but this music composition of Woody Guthrie's lyrics is stunning. California Stars now a classic played by many bands. Not really as I see Mr Bragg. But then he was on TV talk show recently - maybe he's not such a knob. He does himself no favors by ranting on about socialist injustice. I don't suppose he himself is suffering.
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