Billy Bragg / Wilco

Mermaid Avenue, Vol. 2

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Like many sequels, Mermaid Avenue, Vol. 2 isn't the equal of its predecessor -- that felt fully realized, where this feels a little patchwork -- yet it is still satisfying on many levels. As on the first, the Billy Bragg-written and sung music is the most convincing since he captures the cadences and spirit of Guthrie's music. They sound like classic, weathered folk songs whereas Wilco's numbers are modern inventions, splicing music that is clearly theirs with Guthrie's words. The chasm between the two artists was apparent on the first, but it's more evident this time around, largely due to the fact that several of Wilco's songs were recorded without Bragg after the release of Mermaid Avenue. This gives the record a strangely disjointed feel that isn't helped by the guest appearances by Natalie Merchant on "I Was Born" and Corey Harris whose vocals overpower "Aginst th' Law." Since Bragg and Wilco are pursuing slightly different directions in the first place, the guest artists only add to the patchwork quality of the record. Still, even with its weaknesses, there are plenty of worthwhile things here from both sides of the spectrum. If Wilco occasionally is a little too somber or introspective, they do have moments where everything aligns perfectly. But, as on the first, it's the Bragg-led numbers that truly catch fire, feeling every bit as warm, funny, and vibrant as Guthrie's best work. His contributions go a long way to making Mermaid Avenue, Vol. 2 a pleasing sequel.

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