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Alternative & Indie - Released September 20, 2019 | Cooking Vinyl Limited

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Pop - Released April 20, 2012 | Nonesuch

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Pop - Released April 20, 2012 | Nonesuch

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Country - Released September 23, 2016 | Cooking Vinyl

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Alternative & Indie - Released October 9, 2006 | Cooking Vinyl

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Folk/Americana - Released March 6, 2006 | Cooking Vinyl

Billy Bragg's first and best music reflected a union of two complementary musical approaches that had yet to be brought together -- the tradition of topical songwriting which dated back to the earliest days of British folk and championed in the 20th century by the likes of Woody Guthrie and Phil Ochs, and the working-class ranting of British punk, which reflected life, love, and frustration in both the dole queue and the bedsits of a generation of alienated young people. With his big, fuzzy electric guitar chords and passionate bark of a voice, Bragg was often cited as "a one-man Clash," but he dealt with the nuts and bolts of the political issues of the day with far more specificity than, say, Joe Strummer, and his songs about love and confusion were more in the manner of a grittier Ray Davies, or a warmer and wittier Paul Weller than the likes of Sham 69. Volume 1 is a box set which collects the lion's share of Bragg's early work, including his debut EP Life's a Riot with Spy vs. Spy, the albums Brewing Up with Billy Bragg and Talking with the Taxman About Poetry, and three other EPs (Between the Wars, Live and Dubious, and The Internationale). Listening to the set in sequence offers an interesting opportunity to observe the evolution of Bragg's music, as he begins with the Spartan guitar/vocal approach of 1983's Life's a Riot and gradually adds more ingredients to the mix until he graduated to the rich and fully furnished production of 1990's The Internationale; the politics of Bragg's music also become increasingly pointed with the passage of time, though he's clearly more concerned with Joe Public than the Powers That Be and still hasn't forgotten about the mysteries of romantic interaction. Each of the four key releases included in this box (Life's a Riot, Brewing Up, Talking with the Taxman and The Internationale) has been paired up with an additional disc of bonus material, which in the case of The Internationale is a DVD of television performances from Lithuania and East Berlin, while the other audio discs feature unreleased songs, alternate takes, and single or compilation sides. All four double-disc releases have also been released separately, but this box set includes a book of lyrics, photos, and additional credits, as well as a second DVD featuring an appearance of Bragg from a 1985 edition of The South Bank Show, and another concert recorded for television broadcast in East Berlin in 1986. Volume 1 is an exhaustive chronicle of Billy Bragg's formative era, and contains some of his best and most moving recordings; it's a fine set for those upgrading their old vinyl versions of his albums, but some might prefer to pick and choose among the individual releases Yep Roc has also put out. ~ Mark Deming
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 2003 | Cooking Vinyl

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Alternative & Indie - Released January 1, 1987 | Cooking Vinyl

After Elektra signed Billy Bragg to his first major-label deal and released Talking with the Taxman About Poetry in 1986, the label decided to do a clean-up job on his back catalog and compiled Back to Basics, which combined the material from Bragg's first three records -- Life's a Riot with Spy vs Spy, Brewing Up with Billy Bragg, and Between the Wars -- into one two-record set (now available on a single CD). The first seven cuts, from the Life's a Riot EP, are Billy Bragg at his most basic; recorded in an afternoon with no overdubs, the audio is rough and Billy's electric guitar often threatens to drown out his voice, but the performances are game, and Bragg was already writing top-notch songs like "A New England" and "The Milkman of Human Kindness." The next 11 songs were originally released on Bragg's first LP, Brewing Up with Billy Bragg; while the sound is still spare and stark, the engineering is a good bit cleaner than on Life's a Riot, and Billy fleshed out his one-man-with-a-guitar approach to include the occasional vocal and/or guitar overdub, and even guest musicians on two tracks (though the trumpet on "The Saturday Boy" and the organ on "A Lover Sings" hardly count as orchestration). Bragg's performances are even stronger, displaying a charm that didn't quite make it through the sloppy sound of his debut, and his love songs resonated more strongly while his political numbers cut deep (especially "It Says Here" and the harrowing "Island of No Return"). Back to Basics closes with three somber political numbers that first surfaced on Bragg's Between the Wars EP, released when tensions over trade union strikes in the U.K. were at their height -- one original ("Between the Wars") and two vintage labor anthems. While the tone is downbeat, the performances are strong and compassionate. While Back to Basics fudges a bit with the sequence of the original material, and there's no reason why both of Bragg's recordings of "It Says Here" couldn't have been included, it's still a strong collection of some of Billy Bragg's most engaging work. ~ Mark Deming
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Folk/Americana - Released March 6, 2006 | Cooking Vinyl

The cover to Billy Bragg's Talking with the Taxman About Poetry features the subtitle "the difficult third album," and while it's obviously meant as a joke, there's also a certain truth to the statement -- after two EPs and a full album that only rarely featured anything other than Bragg's voice and electric guitar, Talking with the Taxman found him and producers John Porter and Kenny Jones trying to add a bit of polish to Bragg's stark sound without losing either the charm of his performances or the power of his political statements. While nearly all the tracks on Talking with the Taxman feature Bragg alongside other musicians (among them Johnny Marr and Kirsty MacColl), the arrangements are purposefully spare, and ultimately they sweeten the songs without getting in the way of Bragg's homey melodies or passionate lyrics. However, as a songwriter, Billy's heart was stronger than his head on this album; while Talking with the Taxman features several of his best love songs (such as "The Marriage," "Greetings to the New Brunette," and "Wishing the Days Away") and some superb character studies ("Levi Stubbs' Tears" and "The Passion"), the political numbers are unexpectedly strident and obvious, especially the clumsy "Ideology" and "Help Save the Youth of America." Talking with the Taxman About Poetry proved that Bragg could take his music in a new direction and still hold on to the qualities that made his songs so special; too bad his political instincts were not as keen as his musical ones at the time. ~ Mark Deming
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Alternative & Indie - Released November 3, 2017 | Cooking Vinyl

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Early in his career, Billy Bragg often seemed like a "singing journalist" in the manner of his sometime role model Phil Ochs, but there was always a strong element of the personal in Bragg's work as well, and it grew stronger with the passage of time. But Bragg never stopped singing about the issues of the day, and in the wake of the election of Donald Trump in America and the United Kingdom's decision to leave the European Union, he's had plenty of food for thought. Bridges Not Walls is a six-song EP that gives Bragg a much-needed soapbox for songs about the chaotic state of the world in 2017. Each of these tracks explicitly deals with a topic pertaining to our current crises -- economic injustice, global warming, xenophobia, the right to protest, and the ways in in which the free market has become a blunt instrument that harms more than it helps. On "The Sleep of Reason" and a cover of Anais Mitchell's "Why We Build the Wall" (the latter timelier than ever), Bragg returns to the one-man-Clash buzzsaw guitar style that was his first aural trademark, though most of the time he approaches these songs with the pub rock/contemporary folk hybrid that's become his standard. Bridges Not Walls is not the work of the angry young man Bragg was in 1983, but his commitment to his ideals and these songs is as strong as ever, and the warmth of "Saffiyah Smiles" and "King Tide and the Sunny Day Flood" is powerful and engaging. The final track, "Full English Brexit," is nothing short of brilliant, a thorough inventory of the poisoned thinking that led to Brexit put into the voice of one unfortunately typical bloke who fails to recognize his own racism. In a world that's turning upside down on a regular basis, the topical EP may be just the right format for Billy Bragg's socially conscious side, and Bridges Not Walls is smart, insightful music from a man who's made such things his business for nearly 35 years. ~ Mark Deming
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Pop - Released April 20, 2012 | Nonesuch

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Pop - Released April 20, 2012 | Nonesuch

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Pop - Released October 21, 2013 | Cooking Vinyl

When Billy Bragg struck out on his own after mustering out of the British Army (and his short-lived punk band Riff Raff), he set out to be a one-man version of the Clash, and his first recorded salvo is nearly as strong a statement of purpose as the Clash's self-titled debut. Life's a Riot with Spy vs Spy captured Bragg in rough but indelible form: the passionate bray of his voice, the noisy report of his electric guitar, and the push and pull between small-p politics and a regular bloke's view of the world were all firmly in place, and in many respects these seven songs set the template for the first act of Bragg's career, with much of what followed essentially a variation on this theme. "To Have and to Have Not," "A New England," and "The Busy Girl Buys Beauty" proved he could write about social and political themes with unpretentious intelligence, "The Milkman of Human Kindness" and "The Man in the Iron Mask" showed he had plenty to say about affairs of the heart, and all the songs are well served by the spare, stark dynamics of Bragg's guitar-and-voice performing style. While the slightly dodgy fidelity of the low-budget recording occasionally interferes, Life's a Riot with Spy vs Spy caught enough ears to send Billy Bragg on his way to a successful career, and with good reason -- he rarely made a record that honored both his songs and his enthusiasm as effectively as he did here. ~ Mark Deming
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Alternative & Indie - Released March 17, 2013 | Cooking Vinyl

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"January Song," the bluesy leadoff track from veteran English folkie Billy Bragg's first solo outing since 2008's Mr. Love and Justice, begins with the lyric "I'm so tightly wound in tension" and ends with "This is how the world ends," signaling a shift from the stalwart political activism of previous outings to a more internalized dialogue that suggests a subtle re-positioning of the magnifying glass. Bragg has always tempered his political leanings with matters of the heart, and the weepy "Chasing Rainbows" and sad and soulful "Your Name on My Tongue" rank as two of his more intimate offerings, suggesting a recent emotional upheaval that needed a basement in Pasadena, California to find catharsis. Bragg and producer Joe Henry, owner of the aforementioned basement where Tooth & Nail was recorded, make for a solid team, allowing their shared love of rural Americana to run wild and each song enough elbow room to get comfy by sticking to a pantry of few seasonings, which makes the occasional Greg Leisz-supplied Dobro, mandolin, and pedal steel, and the Patrick Warren-provided autoharp and pump organ, feel less like window dressing and more like a crucial component. That's not to say that Tooth & Nail arrives sans boxing gloves, as evidenced by the inclusion of signature Bragg rallying anthems like "Tomorrow's Going to Be a Better Day" and the album's most engaging cut, the rough and tumble "No One Knows Nothing Anymore," but it says something when even the requisite Woody Guthrie number, an appropriately wistful reading of "I Ain't Got No Home," while still steeped in dustbowl civics, eschews straight up politics for weary soul searching. ~ James Christopher Monger
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Alternative & Indie - Released October 9, 2006 | Cooking Vinyl

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Alternative & Indie - Released March 6, 2006 | Cooking Vinyl

Billy Bragg's albums have always contained material with the strong political slant of classic folksingers in the Woody Guthrie/Bob Dylan mold. This release shows him at his most muckrakingly fervent and angry. Only "The Marching Song of the Covert Battalions" has music actually composed by Bragg -- and that selection contains a lengthy quote of the tune "When Johnny Come Marching Home." The rest are covers of songs (some of them pre-20th century) that either overtly or covertly deal with revolution, radical politics, or pacifist sentiments. The arrangements are a real departure for Bragg, and are most unusual and effective. "I Dreamed I Saw Phil Ochs Last Night" and "Nicaragua Nicaraguita" are for unaccompanied voice. "Marching Song of the Covert Battalions" features prominent clarinet and recorder passages supported by organ, accordion, and revival-meeting bass drum/cymbals combination. "Red Flag" is an energetic reel set sparsely for voice, whistles, percussion, and minimal guitar. The title track is given a grand, traditional, all-stops-out treatment, arranged for chorus, large brass ensemble, and percussion. The album's best selection, "My Youngest Son Came Home Today," is a dirgelike antiwar number that is very moving and effective. This album is a committed, deeply felt manifesto well worth a listen. Original pressings of this record came with a wide-ranging and enjoyable promotional 45 containing selections by Bragg, Clea & McLeod, Caroline Trettine, and the Young Fresh Fellows. ~ David Cleary
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Alternative & Indie - Released March 6, 2006 | Cooking Vinyl

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Pop - Released April 14, 2014 | Cooking Vinyl

Live at the Union Chapel presents Billy Bragg's June 2013 performance at the Islington, London venue on both DVD and audio CD. While both discs include the main set from that evening -- comprising every track from March 2013's Tooth & Nail, interspersed with material from Bragg's back catalog -- the DVD features an encore in which he performed his brief 1983 debut, Life's a Riot with Spy vs Spy, in its entirety. Also included here among the bonus features are related promo videos and further live performances of material from Tooth & Nail. ~ James Wilkinson
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Alternative & Indie - Released October 9, 2006 | Cooking Vinyl

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Alternative & Indie - Released January 1, 1999 | Cooking Vinyl

This is no ragtag rummage sale of leftovers, castoffs, and third-rate rejects. Having previously purchased the ten singles Reaching is culled from, spanning 1985-1997, one nevertheless revels in the poignant, luxurious breadth of Bragg's heart and brain. Like Bragg's real LPs, this is a roadmap to the spectrum of feeling, from bliss to misery and every destination in between. One experiences the heart-busting sweetness of "Ontario, Quebec and Me," the contented, bubbling joy of "The Boy Done Good," the knowing shrug of "Bad Penny," the regretful resignation of a revamped (by an inspired Johnny Marr) "Greetings to the New Brunette" called "Shirley," the distasteful, frank frustration of "Sulk," the gentle sadness in a rendition of the Smiths' B-side "Jeane," the wrenching melancholy of a ballad-rethink of "Wishing the Days Away," and the dour despair of his piano cover of Brit-folk standard "Heart Like a Wheel." (Or, for those who favor sociopolitics, there is "Days Like These" and a less frenzied re-recording of "Accident Waiting to Happen.") Unfortunately, some of Bragg's best B-sides are oddly A.W.O.L. The scathing "Thatcherites" and the Natalie Merchant-sung collaboration "Bread and Circuses" should have replaced the too-sketchy "I Don't Need This Pressure Ron" and "Scholarship Is the Enemy of Romance" -- or simply been added, along with his torch job on Love's "Seven and Seven Is." Likewise, a so-so cover of the Beatles' "She's Leaving Home" probably should have been left on the forgettable charity Sgt. Pepper tribute LP it came from. But, otherwise, this album might be better than William Bloke. If Bragg-faves the Temptations once sang "I Wish it Would Rain," then Reaching is like that song's memorable coda: "Let it rain...." ~ Jack Rabid