Billy Bragg & Wilco,
Mermaid Avenue
(Elektra, 1998)

Every once in a while and usually out of the blue, we are graced with an album that defies time and genre, the type of music that we will be listening to when Mars is terraformed. Mermaid Avenue is just such an album.

This is the diamond in the careers of both Billy Bragg and Wilco. Whether it's the boisterous "Walt Whitman's Niece," the thumping drums of "California Stars" or the country folk of "Minor Key," this album offers a richness of sound that will have listeners licking their chops. The innocence of tracks like "Hoodoo Voodoo" or "Ingrid Bergman" creates a fragile balance with the spate of darker songs like "One by One," which sounds as if pulled from a deep burrow of desire in Woody Guthrie's soul and recalls the sweet yearning of Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay."

While the album delivers consistently good music, each song is so different from its predecessor that even the most casual listener's attention is unlikely to wander. Nominated for a Grammy as Best Contemporary Folk Album, Mermaid Avenue is a priceless example of Guthrie's achievement at the dawn of a new century.

- Rambles
written by Gianmarc Manzione
published 22 February 2003

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