Billy Bragg - Tooth & Nail
"My journey has been so hard lately," opines Billy Bragg on ‘January Song’, thus providing the perfect context for the content and feel on his first album in five years. Tooth and Nail is his most intimately personal album to date, reflecting, as it does the changing nature of his personal life and the realisation that, like all of us, he is not getting any younger. Accepting that life won’t always be perfect is the compromise that helps us get on with our lives.
Although his usual political themes are present, as on the road trip weariness of ‘There Will Be A Reckoning' and the more optimistic ‘Tomorrow’s Going to Be A Better Day’, it is the meat of the album where he really shines. His intimate musings on the ups and downs of everyday living are a quiet joy and if only we could all write beautifully constructed love songs about our inability to put up shelves or build a shed (the witty, Woody Guthrie-esque ‘Handyman Blues’) then the local joiner would never be out of work.
The influence of Guthrie is evident throughout as Bragg casts a nod back to the folk/country leanings first addressed with Wilco on the Mermaid Avenue albums sessions. This is no mere retread of past glories, though, as Bragg’s own take on life’s rich tapestry see him reigniting his lyrical mojo to devastating effect as evidenced by the bittersweet ‘Chasing Rainbows' and tear-inducing ‘Goodbye, Goodbye’. Add in the gentle beauty of 'I Ain’t Got No Home’, as bleakly relevant today as it was when Guthrie wrote it, and you can’t fail to recognise the work of a singer-songwriter still at the top of his game.
If it once seemed true that the young had all the good tunes, today it is the veteran performers who are increasingly proving how it should be done. Billy Bragg is no exception. Tooth and Nail is a heart breaking, heart-warming and richly rewarding album of timeless folk and Americana that stands firmly alongside the albums of his own youth - and as one of the best in his career.