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Billy's best for a long time
on 27 March 2008
Although it's been six years since his last album England Half English, Billy Bragg is one artist who you can`t accuse of being lazy. Since releasing that LP, Billy has written a book The Progressive Patriot, made or appeared on countless TV and radio programmes and played numerous regular and low-key gigs and benefits around the World. And now he has brought out not just one new album buy two...
Yes the Deluxe Edition version of Mr. Love & Justice comes with two discs - the band version recorded with Billy's group The Blokes and a solo rendition of the same songs with Billy on vocals and crunchy electric guitar. Recorded after the band versions, the solo recordings will delight those from Billy's fanbase who still hanker for his one-man-and-a-guitar assault on the World in the 80s. They also of course beg the question as to which version of Bragg is best. My reply is that both the band and solo versions of the songs are worthy on this excellent album.
Not that the solo recordings are necessarily quieter than the full versions with this artist of course. Take the second song I Almost Killed You - the band version has a campfire feel whereas the solo take has loud, punky guitar like it's 1984 all over again. Both versions are excellent. Among the other highlights for me are the literal wordplay of M For Me, highly political O Freedom and Something Happened which dissects the difference between love and lust in two sentences over some of the grungiest guitar ever laid down on a Billy Bragg record.
Musically the key influences on Mr. Love & Justice are classic soul, folk and country rather than the mix of World music to celebrate multicultural Britain and rather less inspiring pub-rock on England Half English. There are though still plenty of instruments from around the World featured on the new album whose songs are much stronger than its predecessor. An excellent album then and Billy's best since 1991's Don't Try This At Home at the very least. It's worth the wait if it's this good as well as extra points for whoever had the idea of bringing out band and solo versions of the songs. Well done Billy on your best album for a long time.