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England, Half English – Billy Bragg and the Blokes

Elektra Records 7559627432

It's been six years since the last Bragg-penned release and, as England,
Half English shows, that's too damn long a wait. During the interim,
settled into various projects, the most high profile being his two albums
with Wilco which set Woody Guthrie lyrics to song.

Before I go any further, I should address these two questions that may have popped into your head. It's only fair, especially if you've read this far. Who is this Bragg guy and why does it matter if he put out another record?

A quick explanation: Bragg embraced blues, political folk, r&b, and punk
rock to start a solo career. Typical of his live gigs and much of his early
work, Bragg accompanied himself solely on electric guitar; a bit of a rocker,
bit of a folkie. What made his material stand out was a sharp sense of
that was equaled by four-star lyrical content that was alternately filled
with wicked wit, romantic ideals for a better world, and incisive
storytelling. His viewpoints were always aided by language that would fit in
within any punter in any pub in the world as well as out-debating any
politician politicking across the land, yet he could turn a phrase like a
master craftsman using power tools to build a cabinet.

In Bragg's world, there is only politics — the sexual kind, the type that
erupts between ethnic and social classes and, of course, the bureaucracy and
befuddlement of governments. Sure, there are those who exclaim that
politics and music shouldn't mix. My immediate argument is Bragg's music. He
goes beyond manifestos and laws and brings it all to a level that resides
next to us at the dinner table.

England, Half English doesn't stray from Bragg's politically-based themes. And with the lack of others doing what he masterfully does, that's a good thing. Married now, he tackles sex in a fresh dimension with the tale of adulterous invitation on "Jane Allen". And the music lover in him finds an emotional crescendo on "Tears of My Tracks". The tale of letting go of one's vinyl and all the memories contained within each groove is something that caters to music junkies infinite affection for recorded music.

These are mere stopovers. The album's main focus is nationality. In his
case, what does it mean to be English? Bragg explored that notion after
seeing English soccer hooligans bust up cities in other countries. Pointing
out the absurdity of Englishness as being a white-only fixture, he deftly
brings up how his fellow countrymen have always been a mongrel lot since its
existence. As he emphasizes on "Take Down the Union Jack," it's "Anglo

While I wish that Bragg would have written brief explanations in regards
to the songs for those listening who don't do their "homework" (I read an
interview in Uncut) or receive a record company bio, the idea of
those from
a variety of ethnic backgrounds melting together in the pot of existence to
become a united national state is something that strikes a strong chord in
this country.

That's the beauty of Bragg's work. Its directness in regards to his zip
code becomes something that's universally recognized.

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