"Trying to change the world by singing about it is a dirty business but someone has to do it." -- Billy Bragg, 1988 Billy Bragg, once-described as a "one-man Clash," has spent the last two decades writing and performing passionate, witty, socially conscious music. In doing so, he's forged a career that has seen the London Times declare him a "national treasure," while here in the states, Woody Guthrie's daughter, Nora, handpicked Bragg to resurrect the spirit of America's own radical dissenter, assigning him the task of bringing Woody's unfinished songs and lyrics to life. The latter's result, "Mermaid Avenue", brought him and collaborators Wilco a Grammy nomination. 1983's "Life's a Riot With Spy Vs. Spy" first introduced the world to Billy's style -- roughly strummed electric guitar and stark vocals belying a keen sense of melody and committed, deeply humane lyrics on topics ranging from life and love to social upheaval and the plight of the working class. On September 6, Yep Roc Records will re-issue Bragg's first four releases singly and as a 9-disc box set that includes 2 bonus DVDs with previously unavailable live footage. The releases include his debut, along with "Brewing Up With Billy Bragg", "Talking to the Taxman About Poetry", and a disc that combines the "The Internationale" and "Live amp; Dubious" EPs. Each release will feature the re-mastered original and a second disc of bonus material, much of it previously unavailable and handpicked by Billy and longtime Bragg cohorts Grant Showbiz and Wiggy -- a labor of love indeed. Box Set. Yep Records. 2006.
Had Woody Guthrie been able to spend his teenage years haunting clubs like CBGB's or Max's Kansas City, he might have ended up sounding something like Billy Bragg: politically and socially aware and armed with a witty, angry acumen that he'd wear as a badge every time he took to the stage. Bragg's unearthing with Wilco of dozens of Guthrie songs may have been his conventional calling card, but since 1983 the British songwriter has spoken to factions of fans through his many solo records. Four of those albums--Life's a Riot with Spy vs. Spy (1983), "i"Brewing Up with Billy Bragg (1984), "i"Talking with the Taxman About Poetry (1986), and "i"The Internationale (1990)--are packaged here, complete with extra tracks, alternative versions, and live recordings. A bonus DVD features a 1985 profile of the artist, as well as a 1986 live performance, where Bragg is always at his best. "i"--Scott Holter