BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
Considering Billy Bragg’s well-known reputation as a rebel and a raconteur, the lack of a new album since 2008’s Mr. Love and Justice seems somewhat curious. After all, you’d think he’d have eagerly seized the opportunities for critiquing the general downturn in world affairs and the economic doldrums that have occurred in the interim. Nevertheless, Tooth & Nail” marks something of a departure for Bragg, in that social concerns take a backseat to more personal concerns. Subtitled “The Sherpa of Heartbreak,” following up on a fan’s tweet that suggested the same, the album takes a weary world view best typified by its sole cover, another revisit to the Woody Guthrie catalogue, “I Ain’t Got No Home.” Sober, somber and downcast to a degree, the new album finds Bragg playing the role of tattered troubadour, whether through the quiet sway of “Over You,” the dimly lit haze of “January Song,” or the bittersweet strum of “Goodbye, Goodbye.” To Bragg’s credit however, he manages to find a break in the clouds, courtesy of the tongue-in-cheek rejection of domestic duties called “Handyman Blues,” the folksy ramble of “Do Unto Others” and the topical slap at today’s so-called pundits, “No One Knows Nothing Anymore.” Preferred producer Joe Henry, co-author of two of these songs, enlists a superb session crew – drummer Jay Bellerose, pedal steel player Greg Leisz, bassist David Pitch and keyboard ace Patrick Warren – and also assures the gravitas needed to underscore the material’s darker intents. With a reflective outlook worthy of Bragg’s now venerable stature, this weathered perspective serves him well.
DOWNLOAD: “Goodbye, Goodbye,” “Do Unto Others,” “No One Knows Nothing Anymore”