Billy Bragg's albums have always contained material with the strong political slant of classic folksingers in the Woody Guthrie/Bob Dylan mold. This release shows him at his most muckrakingly fervent and angry. Only "The Marching Song of the Covert Battalions" has music actually composed by Bragg -- and that selection contains a lengthy quote of the tune "When Johnny Come Marching Home." The rest are covers of songs (some of them pre-20th century) that either overtly or covertly deal with revolution, radical politics, or pacifist sentiments. The arrangements are a real departure for Bragg, and are most unusual and effective. "I Dreamed I Saw Phil Ochs Last Night" and "Nicaragua Nicaraguita" are for unaccompanied voice. "Marching Song of the Covert Battalions" features prominent clarinet and recorder passages supported by organ, accordion, and revival-meeting bass drum/cymbals combination. "Red Flag" is an energetic reel set sparsely for voice, whistles, percussion, and minimal guitar. The title track is given a grand, traditional, all-stops-out treatment, arranged for chorus, large brass ensemble, and percussion. The album's best selection, "My Youngest Son Came Home Today," is a dirgelike antiwar number that is very moving and effective. This album is a committed, deeply felt manifesto well worth a listen. Original pressings of this record came with a wide-ranging and enjoyable promotional 45 containing selections by Bragg, Clea & McLeod, Caroline Trettine, and the Young Fresh Fellows.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by David Cleary