Mermaid Avenue

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For the Woody Guthrie song, see Mermaid's Avenue.
Mermaid Avenue
Studio album by Billy Bragg and Wilco
Released June 23, 1998 (1998-06-23)
Recorded Dublin, Chicago and Boston
Genre Folk rock
Length 49:20
Label Elektra
Producer Billy Bragg,
Grant Showbiz,
Wilco
Billy Bragg chronology
Bloke on Bloke
(1997)
Mermaid Avenue
(1998)
Reaching to the Converted
(1999)
Wilco chronology
Being There
(1996)
Mermaid Avenue
(1998)
Summerteeth
(1999)
Billy Bragg & Wilco chronology
Mermaid Avenue
(1998)
Mermaid Avenue Vol. II
(2000)
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars[1]
The A.V. Club (Favourable)[2]
Entertainment Weekly B+[3]
Robert Christgau A[4]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[5]
Spin (8/10)[6]

Mermaid Avenue is a 1998 album of previously unheard lyrics written by American folk singer Woody Guthrie, put to music written and performed by British singer Billy Bragg and the American band Wilco. The project was the first of several such projects organized by Guthrie's daughter, Nora Guthrie, original director of the Woody Guthrie Foundation and archives. Mermaid Avenue was released on the Elektra Records label on June 23, 1998. A second volume of recordings, Mermaid Avenue Vol. II, followed in 2000 and both were collected in a box set alongside volume three in 2012 as Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions. The projects are named after the song "Mermaid's Avenue", written by Guthrie. This was also the name of the street in Coney Island, New York on which Guthrie lived. According to American Songwriter Magazine, "The Mermaid Avenue project is essential for showing that Woody Guthrie could illuminate what was going on inside of him as well as he could detail the plight of his fellow man".[7]

Recording[edit]

During the spring of 1992, Woody Guthrie's daughter Nora contacted English singer-songwriter Billy Bragg about writing music for a selection of completed Guthrie lyrics after Bragg played a Guthrie tribute concert in New York City's Central Park.[8] Her father had left behind over a thousand sets of complete lyrics written between 1939 and 1967; as they had not been recorded by Guthrie, and he did not write music, none of these lyrics had any music other than a vague stylistic notation.

Nora Guthrie's liner notes in Mermaid Avenue indicate that it was her intention that the songs be given to a new generation of musicians who would be able to make the songs relevant to a younger generation. Nora Guthrie contacted Bragg, who in turn approached Wilco and asked them to participate in the project as well. Wilco agreed, and in addition to recording with Bragg in Ireland, they were given their own share of songs to finish.

Rather than recreating tunes in Guthrie's style, Bragg and Wilco created new, contemporary music for the lyrics. What seemed like a risky enterprise surprised everyone; released in 1998 as Mermaid Avenue, the results were met with universal acclaim. The album received a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Folk Album, and went on to place fourth on the Pazz & Jop Critics Poll for 1998 (right behind Bob Dylan's Live 1966).

Since the release of the Mermaid Avenue albums, many other musicians have released recordings that similarly have drawn upon the trove of unpublished Guthrie material. According to Bob Dylan's autobiography, Chronicles, Woody Guthrie had offered his unpublished lyrics to Dylan, but when Dylan visited Guthrie's house to obtain them, Guthrie's wife Marjorie was not home. Guthrie's son Arlo told his babysitter to let Dylan in, but Arlo didn't know about the manuscripts and Dylan left empty-handed.[9]

Man in the Sand, a documentary about the collaboration between Billy Bragg and Wilco, was released in 1999. A DVD of the film is included in Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions.

Track listing[edit]

All lyrics written by Woody Guthrie; music composers are listed below.

  1. "Walt Whitman's Niece" (Bragg) – 3:53
  2. "California Stars" (Tweedy / Bennett)– 4:57
  3. "Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key" ft Natalie Merchant (Bragg) – 4:06
  4. "Birds and Ships" ft Natalie Merchant (Bragg) – 2:13
  5. "Hoodoo Voodoo" (Tweedy / Bennett / Bragg / John Stirratt / Ken Coomer / Harris) – 3:12
  6. "She Came Along to Me" (Bragg / Tweedy / Bennett) – 3:26
  7. "At My Window Sad and Lonely" (Tweedy) – 3:27
  8. "Ingrid Bergman" (Bragg) – 1:50
  9. "Christ for President" (Bragg) – 2:39
  10. "I Guess I Planted" (Bragg) – 3:32
  11. "One by One" (Tweedy) – 3:22
  12. "Eisler on the Go" (Bragg) – 2:56
  13. "Hesitating Beauty" (Tweedy) – 3:04
  14. "Another Man's Done Gone" (Bragg) – 1:34
  15. "The Unwelcome Guest" (Bragg) – 5:09

Personnel[edit]

  • Billy Bragg – acoustic guitar (1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 10, 15), electric guitar (5, 13), National guitar (9, 12), bouzouki (7), banjo (12), lead vocals (1, 3, 6, 8, 10, 12, 15), backing vocals (7), handclaps (10)
  • Jeff Tweedy – acoustic guitar (2, 6, 7, 9, 11, 15), electric guitar (1, 10), harmonica (1, 6, 15), lead vocals (2, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 14), backing vocals (1, 10), handclaps (10)
  • Jay Bennett – piano (1, 2, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13), Hammond B-3 organ (3, 5, 7, 10, 11), clavinet (1, 9), grand piano (14, 15), melodica (12, 15), Farfisa organ (1), Farfisa bass pedals (5), drums (1), percussion (12), bouzouki (3), dulcimer (7), banjo (9), acoustic guitar (6), electric guitar (13), slide guitar (6), electric bass (6), backing vocals (1, 2, 6, 7, 10, 13), handclaps (10)
  • Corey Harris – electric guitar (5), lap steel guitar (2), backing vocals (10), handclaps (10)
  • Ken Coomer – drums (1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 13, 15), percussion (1, 2, 3, 9, 12), backing vocals (1, 10), handclaps (10)
  • Natalie Merchant – lead vocals (4), backing vocals (3)
  • John Stirratt – electric bass (2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 13, 15), acoustic bass (1, 9), bass pedals (9), bass piano (5), Hammond B-3 organ (6), acoustic guitar (6), backing vocals (1, 2, 7, 10), handclaps (10)
  • Peter Yanowitz – chorus drums (3)
  • Bob Egan – pedal steel (11, 15), slide guitar (6)
  • Eliza Carthy – violin (2, 3)
  • Johnathan "JP" Parker - backing vocals (1)
  • Elizabeth Steen - accordion (3)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Mermaid Avenue at AllMusic. Retrieved 2012-09-03.
  2. ^ Phipps, Keith (2002-04-19). "Billy Bragg & Wilco: Mermaid Avenue". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 2013-05-31. 
  3. ^ Browne, David (1998-09-04). "Music Review: 'Mermaid Avenue' Review". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2013-05-31. 
  4. ^ Christgau, Robert. "CG: Billy Bragg & Wilco". RobertChristgau.com. Retrieved 2012-09-03. 
  5. ^ Marcus, Greil (1998-06-01). "Mermaid Avenue". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2013-05-31. 
  6. ^ "Billy Bragg / Wilco - Mermaid Avenue CD Album". CD Universe. Retrieved 2013-05-31. 
  7. ^ "Billy Bragg & Wilco: Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions". American Songwriter. Retrieved 2012-04-19. 
  8. ^ Flanary, Patrick (2012-03-09). "Exclusive: Billy Bragg on Woody Guthrie, 3rd 'Mermaid Avenue' Set". Billboard. Retrieved 2012-03-09. 
  9. ^ Dylan, Bob (2004). Chronicles 1. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 99–100. Retrieved 2013-10-03. 

External links[edit]