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Saturday August 23, 2014
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Billy Bragg

 

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Bragg's third album, Talking with the Taxman about Poetry (1986), established his music's current mix of political rockers, folk-rocky romps, and honky-tonk and vaudevillian flourishes. This time, the romantic cad also sang the empathetic "Levi Stubbs' Tears," a song about a battered woman finding solace in the songs of Motown's Four Tops. The political anthems, which made him a leading voice in the British guitar armies raging against Margaret Thatcher's conservative revolution, also included "Help Save the Youth of America," a protest song about American carelessness and call to conscience for his fans here: "You can fight for democracy at home/And not in some foreign land," he sang (and I guarantee he'll sing it again this month).

Marriage softened Bragg's caddish spark, he doesn't have Thatcher to kick around anymore, and his more recent self-penned albums haven't reached the old heights. Yet he's managed to age with dignity. In Britain, at age forty-eight, he's an elder statesman of protest music and left-wing activism: he's written opinion pieces for national dailies, campaigned to make the House of Lords more democratic, hosted a radio show, appeared on TV talk shows, and organized an on-line vote-swapping campaign that helped take two seats in Parliament from the Tories.

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