In the aftermath of one of the most romantic holidays of the year, it’s likely that some people are trying to keep that loving feeling alive for as long as possible, while others are bidding the day a rueful good riddance. The character at the heart of Billy Bragg’s 1988 ballad “Valentine’s Day Is Over” is likely in that latter category because she is declaring her independence from a relationship doing her far more harm than good.
Bragg is well-known for his political activism and his musical output is generally seen in that light as well. Yet what really sets his songwriting apart is his willingness to tell the truth as he sees it no matter what the subject matter and no matter how ruthless and unforgiving that truth might be. In the case of “Valentine’s Day Is Over,” he shines that unsparing light on the would-be romancer of the story while demonstrating touching empathy for the battered but resilient narrator.
Skip Matheny— currently a songwriter in the band Roman Candle and former bartender in a retirement community — caught up with Billy Bragg before a recent show in Nashville, Tennessee. This interview took place at Fido and all photos are by Will Holland.
Billy Bragg’s newest album Tooth & Nail is out now and he’s playing tonight at 3rd and Lindsley with Rosanne Cash, and Richard Thompson as part of the Americana Music Fest.
Americana Music Festival Lands Billy Bragg, Rosanne Cash, Aoife O’Donovan
Americana is, according to the New York Times, the “coolest music scene today,” and while it may have only just earned its own Grammy category (“Best American Roots Song”), the place of the genre in the musical landscape is far from a recent development. This September 18-22 the Americana Music Association is hosting the 14th annual Americana Music Festival & Conferenceand with any festival worth its salt, the announcement comes boasting an impressive initial lineup. From music veterans like Billy Bragg and Rosanne Cash to up-and-comers such as Aoife O’Donovan and Pokey LaFarge, the showcase is sure to reflect the diversity and innovation in the genre.
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On his first album in five years, Billy Bragg gets back to basics on Tooth and Nail, an album that’s musically stripped to the bare minimum: recorded live, without the “benefit” of overdubs, in less than a week. Real music by real people, in other words.
Billy Bragg & Wilco: Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions
It was an idea that never should have worked. A British folk-rocker joins up with alt-country outliers to put music to the unreleased lyrics of Woody Guthrie. It wouldn’t have surprised anyone if it had diminished the reputation of all involved.
Instead, Mermaid Avenue, performed by Billy Bragg and Wilco and released in 1998, was a revelation, proof that Guthrie was far more than the populist, fascist-bashing folkie that he was often perceived to be. He was also capable of startlingly personal songwriting that was far ahead of its time. Volume 2 was released just two years later to more raves.