Sheffield Republic

[a]Billy Bragg[/a] pays tribute to [B]WOODY GUTHRIE[/B]; the cracks only show when he resorts to a few crowd pleasers from his own back catalogue...

It would have been a collaboration to savour. Billy Bragg, '80s agit-pop renegade and Woody Guthrie, American trade-unionist troubadour. Two men with a keen political eye and a pretty handy idea of what constitutes a cracking tune. History, though, is a cruel beast and as Guthrie was breathing his last in a New York hospital, Billy Bragg was probably having the stabilisers taken off his bike. This, then, will have to do. For tonight, Stars In Their Eyes-style, Billy Bragg is almost Woody Guthrie. He jovially cackles through the rescued lyrical fragments of the Guthrie archive which he has reconstituted into his 'Mermaid Avenue' album and, y'know, it's pretty good.

'Way Over Yonder In A Minor Key' in particular is a great smouldering slab of rawk bravado with its strutting rhythm and cocksure chorus of, "Ain't nobody who can sing like me".

The cracks only show when he resorts to a few crowd pleasers from his own back catalogue; the jubilant 'Waiting For The Great Leap Forward' and the lachrymose 'Tank Park Salute'. His good-humoured admiration of Guthrie cannot mask the fact that, in terms of emotional impact at least, he is a far superior songwriter than his mentor.

The king of political tunesmithery might be dead, then, but long live the king.

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