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Baker's Dozen

Worker's Playtime: Billy Bragg's Favourite Albums
Colm McAuliffe , March 18th, 2013 07:47

To celebrate the release of his notably personal new album Tooth & Nail today, the outspoken, political singer-songwriter talks Colm McAuliffe through his top records


Woody Guthrie - Library Of Congress Recordings
I couldn't buy this Guthrie record until I went to America in 1984. In my mind, although I was aware of Woody Guthrie. Having read Bob Dylan's first biography by a guy named Anthony Scaduto in 1973, I also read about this guy Woody Guthrie but nowhere in the record shops of Romford, Ilford, Dagenham was I gonna find Guthrie. Nothing. But instead, if you're into singer-songwriters like I was, you kinda hear his songs through osmosis: Ry Cooder was playing them, Gordon Lightfoot, Joan Baez… Dylan himself was in there. But it was only when I went to America - of all of them, this was the one that spoke to me because it is just him, sitting down, talking about his life. It's like a radio programme where he just talks and plays songs - incredibly effective and very powerful. I spent most of last year touring the Mermaid Avenue sessions but the newer songs weren't outtakes, they just didn't fit into the jigsaw of an album that was representative of Woody, and of me and Wilco. They're predominantly songs that I had written because I started the project before Wilco so I always had a few more than they had. The second album was tilted towards me, the first was titled towards my idea of Guthrie. The first album was very impressionistic but what happened in between was Summerteeth. Wilco moved form Being There to Summerteeth and interestingly, the Mermaid Avenue sessions were right in between that. I always thought it was an amazing feat of concentration to go from demoing Summerteeth, to recording Mermaid Avenue and back to Summerteeth. Very, very smart. There were times when Jeff Tweedy was playing a song in the studio and I would be trying to suss out whether it's a Wilco song or a Guthrie song - if it was the latter, I'd go help him out. And the great Jay Bennett was still in the band. I think the Complete Sessions is a tribute to him because he was responsible for the sound of Mermaid Avenue, more than anybody else. He brought those strange colours and texture that I would never have dreamt up.