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After 36 years in music, that icon of English folk rock Billy Brag is still a work in progress. With an acclaimed new album, a fresh outlook and renewed inspiration, Bragg returns to Australia for his first full band tour in five years an artist revitalised. And this time, it’s personal.
“Most people, when they hear my name, think of polemical anthems born in struggle. I often find myself having to remind people that I am also the Sherpa of Heartbreak, writing songs about the struggle to maintain our relationships with those we love the most.”
In 2013, the Bard of Barking has pinned his heart back on his sleeve with his universally praised new album Tooth & Nail. After playing a rare solo showcase in Sydney in September, Bragg will be back in March 2014 for a full band tour. The dates will include his first ever show at the Sydney Opera House – one icon for another.
With a renewed focus on the personal, Bragg headed to California last year to record his first album since 2008. Grammy-winning producer Joe Henry offered his basement studio, some stellar musicians – including Greg Leisz (Bon Iver), Patrick Warren (Lana Del Rey), Jay Bellerose (Regina Spektor) and David Piltch (Ramblin’ Jack Eliott) – the encouragement to sing live and the assurance “that making an album need not be a long, drawn-out process”. Five days later, Tooth & Nail was done. Drawing on soul, country and folk, it is, says Bragg, “the follow-up to Mermaid Avenue that I never made”.
“Tooth & Nail is one of Billy’s best, a collection as cerebral and confronting as it is soothing and comforting.” (themusic.com.au, March 2013)
Along with the rootsy echoes of his much-loved Wilco collaboration, Tooth & Nail bears many hallmarks of Bragg’s lifetime of music. As bbc.co.uk put it: “The mellow rage that pervades the countrified defiance of Handyman Blues; the hopeful optimism of Tomorrow’s Going to Be a Better Day; and There Will Be a Reckoning’s powerful rallying cry against ‘the politicians who led us to this fate’.”
Bragg’s Australian shows will see the Bard and his band showcase Tooth & Nail as well songs pulled from his war-chest of classics (a chest overflowing with the likes of A New England, There is Power in a Union, Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key, Take Down the Union Jack and You Woke Up My Neighbourhood).
Rarely, if ever, does a songwriter find himself reborn in his fourth decade in music. With Tooth & Nail, Bragg has become that very rarity. Get a new lease on life in March 2014 – live – with Billy Bragg.
Tickets on sale 9am Monday September 16.
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