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article imageBilly Bragg and Wilco to release new 'lost' Woody Guthrie songs

By Tim Sandle     Feb 18, 2012 in Entertainment
Billy Bragg and the band Wilco have announced that, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of American folk singer Woody Gurthire, they will be releasing a further collection of 'lost' Guthrie songs.
In 1998 the British singer-songwriter Billy Bragg and the US band Wilco (led by Jeff Tweedy) released a collection of previously unrecorded songs by Woody Guthrie. The collection was called 'Mermaid Avenue', named after a street on Coney Island in which Woody Guthrie lived.
The project came about when Woody Guthrie's daughter approached Billy Bragg and asked him to record some of her late father's unrecorded lyrics. After shifting through the mass of unrecorded lyrics in the Guthrie archive, Bragg realised that he needed a band to help with the project. For this he enlisted the help of the US rock band Wilco. Together Bragg and Wilco's front man, Jeff Tweedy, composed music for the lyrics and recorded an album.
The album set the Guthrie lyrics to more modern music (although the music itself remains in the folk / Americana tradition).
Woody Guthrie was a prolific American singer-songwriter and folk musician, perhaps best known for the unofficial American anthem 'This Land Is Your Land'. Guthrie developed the incurable genetically inherited Huntington's disease, which led to him spending the last eleven years of his life in hospital (he died in 1967). Guthrie spend much of his time in hospital writing lyrics, although he was physically unable to set the words to music or to record them.
The 'Mermaid Avenue' album was followed in 2000 by a second collection, called 'Mermaid Avenue Volume II'. Both albums were nominated for Grammy awards. The recording process between Billy Bragg and Wilco was not the smoothest and there were, what is politely known as, 'creative differences' between the two. The falling out is captured on the documentary 'Man In The Sand' and it led to a planned joint tour being shelved (although the two parties did play some one-off gigs together, as the video accompanying this article shows with the song 'California Stars').
With 2012 being the centenary of Guthrie's birth, Bragg has announced that a third album of 17 songs, unsurprisingly titled 'Mermaid Avenue Volume III', will be released. This will be part of a box set which will included re-mastered versions of the first two albums. Given that the first two volumes were critically acclaimed the new album should follow suit. Bragg states in his press release:
" To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Woody’s birth, Nonesuch Records will be releasing ‘Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions’, a four disc set, comprising of remastered versions of Mermaid Avenue Volumes I and II as well as a new collection of 17 songs from the original sessions, ‘Mermaid Avenue Volume III’. The fourth disc will contain ‘Man in the Sand’, Kim Hopkins’ 1999 film, which documents the collaboration between Woody, Wilco and me."
There is, however, no sign of reconciliation between Billy Bragg and Wilco and Bragg has announced plans to tour with a solo acoustic set to promote the new recording.
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