PRINT October 1998


Woody Guthrie with Bill Bragg and Wilco

NEITHER A TRIBUTE ALBUM nor a collaboration, Mermaid Avenue is one of those peculiar contemporary hybrids: music and performance by Billy Bragg and the rock band Wilco, words by the late Woody Guthrie, the great agitprop singer-songwriter whose influence on the folk revival generation of the late ’50s and early ’60s gives him a paternity claim on later rock. When Guthrie died, in 1967, he left a trove of half-songs—written lyrics without the melodies to go with them. The papers languished in boxes until Guthrie’s daughter Nora asked Bragg, a British musician whose consistently, nay constantly expressed politics make him a logical Guthrie sympathizer, to be her father’s cowriter. Bragg found Wilco, and the result is the widely praised Mermaid Avenue.

Not so long ago, I doubt that a posthumous collaboration with a writer not around to agree to it would have passed with only approving comment,

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