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Mermaid Avenue Vol. II – Billy Bragg and Wilco

Mermaid Avenue II Billy Bragg and Wilco

Mermaid Avenue Vol. II

(2000), 7/10
The forgotten record in the Wilco canon, Mermaid Avenue II feels like too obvious of a repeat of the first volume, right down to the Natalie Merchant cameo on a simple acoustic track. It’s rougher and more rock oriented than the first album, and it has enough strong songs to make it a worthwhile project. Most of Tweedy’s songs are strong, and it’s Bragg’s material that’s the problem – his melodies generally aren’t as memorable as Tweedy’s, and sometimes he’s left to bellowing as demonstrated on ‘Meanest Man’.

While it feels like Tweedy could have written something similar in spirit to songs like ‘Another Man’s Done Gone’ or ‘California Stars’ on the first album, it’s fascinating to hear the archetypal confessional songwriter take on another voice here, whether he’s celebrating Americana in ‘Joe DiMaggio Done It Again’ or singing Christian lyrics (“I’m, all clean/I’m all spotless/I’m all pure like them snows/I’m all washed in the blood of the lamb”).

There’s at least one total masterpiece here, the lengthy ‘Remember The Mountain Bed’, where Guthrie’s metaphysical, sexual lyrics (“All this day long I linger here and on in through the night/My greeds, desires, my cravings, hopes and dreams inside me fight”) are matched perfectly by a pretty folk melody and subtly climactic arrangement. ‘Secrets Of The Sea’ is catchy, heading towards power pop territory, while one man band Bennett plays upright bass and drums on the elegiac closer ‘Someday Some Morning Sometime.”

Of Bragg’s compositions, guest vocalist Corey Harris does a terrific job on the ludicrously satirical ‘Aginst Th’ Law’ (“It’s against th’ law to shoot/It’s against th’ law to miss”), while Bragg’s enthusiastic take on ‘All You Fascists’ is similarly effective. Bragg also delivers with a masterful solo acoustic performance on the mournful ‘Black Wind Blowing’.

If you liked the first Mermaid Avenue, this one’s well worth hearing too; it lacks the wide-eyed vitality and unified tone of its prequel, but song for song it’s not really that far behind.

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