Billy Bragg, "Tooth & Nail" (Essential Music/Cooking Vinyl)
Billy Bragg sang about offering "embarrassment and my usual excuses" when accused of "mixing pop and politics" on the late 1980s gem "Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards." Any reservation he might have felt for praising workers and pillorying capitalism's excesses in songs should have ebbed after working with Wilco on writing music for a cache of Woody Guthrie lyrics and releasing the results on three albums a decade later.
Bragg says his new collection, "Tooth & Nail," is a stylistic follow-up to those landmark releases. And that's good news for the left-wing British troubadour's fans.
As usual, Bragg deals with weighty matters -- love, death, the meaning or meaninglessness of life -- but the heaviness is usually leavened with wit and cheek. A case in point: "Tomorrow's Going to Be a Better Day," which addresses "the misanthropic misbegotten merchants of gloom." Still, minor points must be deducted for a whistling solo with so much great piano and pedal steel guitar elsewhere on the album.
Other standouts include "Do Unto Others," featuring a barreling piano and blending riotousness with righteousness, and the straight-up, old-school country flavored "Chasing Rainbows."
Follow Jeff Karoub on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jeffkaroub