Reclaiming the protest song from the clammy paws of po-faced obsolescence, [a]Billy Bragg[/a] has proven Britain’s most consistently relevant social soundtracker. While last year’s Grammy-nominated ‘Mermaid Avenue‘ suggested Margaret Thatcher‘s demise had not quelled his fiery spirit, ‘Reaching To The Converted…‘ offers listeners the chance to delve into the Bard‘s equally ardent past. A 17-strong collection of rarities and B-sides, ‘Reaching…’ is an album of both comprehensive and judicious scope.
Thus, dodgy live versions are jettisoned in favour of considered re-recordings, and political diatribes nestle comfortably beside pathos-strewn pop songs. Highlights include the warm rush of ‘Sulk‘ and the Smiths-ian ‘Shirley‘ (a re-recording of ‘Greetings To The New Brunette‘) while the recent, harmonium-enhanced ‘Rule Nor Reason‘ hints that Bragg‘s grasp of the devotional love song is as canny as ever.
Only his most fervently political numbers (1986’s Tory-baiting ‘Think Again‘ and ’85’s ‘Days Like These‘) have dated; fragile relics from a Britain that now seems little more than a distant memory. But this is a minor quibble. For it’s Bragg‘s humour and humanity that truly shine through here; a genuine, everyman warmth that kills any accusations of worthiness dead. For devotees and new-starts alike, ‘Reaching…’ is indispensable.