Mermaid Avenue is a 1998 album of previously unheard lyrics written by American folk singer Woody Guthrie, put to music written and performed by British singer Billy Bragg and the American band Wilco. The project was the first of several such projects organized by Guthrie's daughter, Nora Guthrie, original director of the Woody Guthrie Foundation and archives. Mermaid Avenue was released on the Elektra Records label on June 23, 1998. A second volume of recordings, Mermaid Avenue Vol. II, followed in 2000 and both were collected in a box set alongside volume three in 2012 as Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions. The projects are named after the song "Mermaid's Avenue", written by Guthrie. This was also the name of the street in Coney Island, New York, on which Guthrie lived. According to American Songwriter Magazine, "The Mermaid Avenue project is essential for showing that Woody Guthrie could illuminate what was going on inside of him as well as he could detail the plight of his fellow man". It was voted number 939 in Colin Larkin's All Time Top 1000 Albums 3rd Edition (2000).Wikipedia
Not much to Bragg about
During the spring of 1995, Woody Guthrie's daughter Nora contacted British urban folk troubadour Billy Bragg about writing music for a selection of completed Guthrie lyrics. This was no minor task -- Guthrie left behind over a thousand sets of complete lyrics written between 1939 and 1967 that had no music other than a vague stylistic notation. Bragg chose a number of songs to finish, as did Jeff Tweedy of the alt-country band Wilco (often with bandmate Jay Bennett). Nora Guthrie impressed a common goal upon them: Rather than recreating Guthrie tunes, they should write as if they were collaborating with Woody, creating new, vital music for the lyrics. Both artists completed more songs than could fit on Mermaid Avenue, which is neatly split between Bragg and Wilco, with Bragg taking lead on eight of the 15 songs. The results are almost entirely a delight, mainly because all involved are faithful to Guthrie's rowdy spirit -- it's a reverent project that knows how to have fun. There are many minor, irresistible gems scattered throughout the album, and most of them come from Bragg. Where Wilco's fine contributions sound inextricably tied to the '90s, both for better and for worse, Bragg's music sounds contemporary while capturing Guthrie's folk traditions. That's not to say Wilco's contributions are failures -- it's just hard to imagine Guthrie singing the plaintive "California Stars" or the plodding "Christ for President," neither of which quite fit the lyrics. Nevertheless, their hearts are in the right place; more often than not, they come close to the target, and their joyous playing invigorates Mermaid Avenue. The blend of Bragg's traditionalist sensibility and Wilco's contemporary style ultimately illustrates that Guthrie's words, ideals, and aesthetics remain alive in the '90s. It's a remarkable record that deserves a sequel.
What a wonderful album. Soulful, significant and spirit-raising, all at the same time.
Woody Guthrie was always one of those artists that I'd spoken about in reverence but never really took the time to listen to until a few years ago. It took the teacher of a lettering workshop I attended talking about Guthrie having been a sign writer travelling where the work took him in the days before he became a recording artitst for me me finally listen closely. I became a staunch fan after that. So I finally listened to this album after side stepping it for so long. It is one of the few albums on this list so far that I would say is a truly important one. It is not only great music split between Wilco and Billy Bragg but it brings to life these lost lyrics. And they tell a story of a forgetten America and showcase how powerful what Woody had to say was. It also showcases what a fun and clever writer the man was. So good to hear his legacy at work. Now to go listen to some more Billy Bragg and Wilco as I have neglected them for way too long
Listened to this in a Travelodge at about 11pm after working since 9am. Not conducive to making much sense of what I heard (but at least it happened before I used the complimentary shampoo that somehow made my hair feel dirtier). Luckily, I know this one fairly well already. So, from memory... It's always a pleasant surprise to hear two artists I have little interest in outside of this collaboration liberated from the tyranny of their own material--so often the thing that holds decent musicians back. Bragg doesn't come across as such a try-hard punk and Wilco don't constipate themselves trying to force melodic brilliance because Guthrie's deceptively simple material carries all the weight for them. That's all I got.
A collaboration like none other (at the time)... Bragg and Wilco were tasked with completing music to accompany completed lyrics Woody Guthrie had left behind. The result is an album that doesn't sound like any of the three components. Fun and diverting.
Wouldn't normally like Bragg but this one was quite pleasant. Perhaps it was the involvement of Wilco which improved it.
Outstanding folk rock. Woody Guthrie’s lyrics are funny, inspiring, depressing.
Loved it. Billy Bragg took a load of old lyrics of Woody Guthrie's and put these songs together trying to imagine how he'd do them if he were alive today. Plus there are two more of these albums.
Really solid album throughout. I like that they had multiple people contribute to the songs which give all of the tracks a slightly different sound but you can tell they are all related. Definitely putting on my list to come back to
Amazing album. So honest. I felt like Billy Bragg is my friend telling me life stories. A lot like Matt Munhall. Really enjoyed listening to it.
California Stars alone is an all-timer, and everything else is an absolute joy. Somehow it's a perfect mix of Bragg, Wilco, special guest Natalie Merchant and the unearthed Woody Guthrie lyrics. Jay Bennett was always the secret sauce in Wilco (the band was never considered "dad rock" until he and Jeff Tweedy parted ways). He always seemed to bring out the best of Tweedy. Back to the aforementioned California Stars. It's obviously a 5, such a great timeless song that it became a signature song for Wilco. It still closes out many of their concerts. Woody Guthrie should write more songs for Jeff Tweedy.
Billy Bragg was definitely the right choice for this project. And Wilco is an interesting backing band for him. Billy Bragg's voice has the right amount of weight and range to capture the spirit of Woody Guthrie, especially on Way Over Yonder with Natalie Merchant backing him. Wilco manage to make the songs their own, especially California Stars. I think I'd prefer a 2 disc affair with all the Billy Bragg led tracks on a disc and all the Wilco led tracks on another. Overall I think I lean towards preferring the Billy Bragg tracks. An interesting experimental cocktail but one I wouldn't come back to repeatedly (and I should know cause I own this one on CD).
My heart sank the second I hit play since I'm already sick and tired of folk music less than 40 albums in, but Woody Guthrie's lyrics went a long way towards making this a more-than-tolerable 50 minutes. There are moments on this record where it sounds like pretty standard stuff, but elsewhere, Wilco and Bragg's sound meshes with Guthrie's playful and progressive wordplay to create an intriguing musical time paradox that feels impossible to date one way or the other. I can't even be too mad about the tracks I didn't like, because a ditty about wanting Ingrid Bergman to touch your junk is even funnier following the maudlin "At My Window Sad and Lonely" (and Bergman doesn't even contain the best dick joke on this record; the opener sees Guthrie building up to an even better knockout blow). My weariness for folk is probably still informing my score here, but I can see how someone could read these lyrics and think that it just has to be turned into music, and for the most part, they do it justice. Key Tracks: Walt Whitman's Niece, Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key, The Unwelcome Guest
A listenable one
2/5 Not really appealing to me, no tempo, quite boring
Was a 2 star until I learned all the lyrics were just nicked from someone else. Commie bastard.
Straight fuck this
This was a total surprise and so memorable. I had heard California Stars before, but nothing else. Loved it.
The first third really took me by surprise. Amazing folk! I guess I should've expected it from Guthrie? I guess I was more eye-rolling at Wilco. But damn, great. Started to taper off as it went on, but ended strong on The Unwelcome Guest. The less than stellar second half of this almost made me give a 4, but I think the concept, execution, and incredible strength of the songs that DO hit keep it a 5 for me.
I like this album. I had only heard 1-2 songs off it before listening.
Probablemente el mejor disco que hicieron ambos, Wilco y Billy. En algunos momentos suenan muy Paul Westerberg, qué loco. Gran disco. Me da como calma, ahorita que me siento entre triste, ondeado y emputado.
Like both artists, makes sense they would sound good together. This album is lovely, bouncy and clever.
It feels like this site knows my album collection. It keeps feeding me albums I've listened to hundreds of times. This is one such album. I was flipping channels one day and ended up watching the documentary of how this album came to be. That documentary was the first I'd heard of the album. That was 20+ years ago, probably around the time the album was released, and I've listened to it countless times since. An absolute classic. Btw, I don't remember whose idea it was to have Billy Bragg and Wilco collaborate on this album, but it was a real stroke of genius. And the Natalie Merchant cameo was absolutely amazing.
Love King Billy And the tension between Wilco And some brilliant songs + Natalie Merchant
Folk rock at its finest. Varied, musical, interesting, and lengthy album.
Fan-fucking-tastic! I had heard a lot of these songs before but didn't know anything about them or the artists involved. What a phenomenal record, one I'll now be spinning the rest of my life.
precioso disco, country y folk, lindas melodias.
Started off strong and continued strong, loved it
Good folk rock/alt country
I don’t listen to this album or Billy Bragg enough
This might be Wilco’s best album… Ingrid Bergman, California Stars, Hesitating Beauty all highlight their “sensitive” side really well.
I own this CD. It's a longtime favourite! Great modern interpretation of Woody Guthry songs.
Still as fantastic as the first time I heard it!
First two songs are real good
This was a fantastic folksy, country and Americana-feeling album that is a good listen all the way through. Couldn’t get California Stars out of my head for multiple days.
one of my favorite albums of all time - one by one close to a perfect song
Great album. Really enjoy the concept and the execution is a lot of fun. 5/5
This is so good! I wasn't sure if I liked the idea to attach Woody Guthrie's lyrics to a more modern sound, but they did a great job of making it all gel. It is a new spin on Woody, not trying to emulate in any way except for the welcome addition of a harmonica on one track. Unexpectedly great!
A great album. Refreshing folk/acoustic style with great lyrics and vocals...obvs with the odd Billy Bragg style you'd expect.
This was lovely. What could possibly go wrong, Woody Guthrie, Billy Bragg and Wilco. Eminently listenable!
I really liked this. I thought every song was strong; there wasn’t a single one that I thought stuck out as weak. I would definitely listen to this again.
I saw this album pop up today and and knew, this is going to be a great day. I really love this album. I listen to it frequently and have several songs in my regular rotation. So if you came to me and asked me to choose an artist who could take original lyrics from Woody Guthrie and frame them musically in a way that's fresh, yet totally captures Guthrie's complexity as a songwriter... Billy Bragg immediately would be my first pick. Wilco wouldn't necessarily have come to mind, but the partnership they have on this album is so special. In fact, Bragg + Wilco (+ Guthrie) is one of the most compelling musical collaborations I've ever heard. The way they support and complement each other musically is beyond words. Guthrie's lyrics are gorgeously, plain-spokenly eloquent. They're sometimes strident, sometimes quite sad, but also so much fun. But this is Billy Bragg's show, really. His pathos and sensitivity, his humor and cheekiness, these are what drive the songs on this album and really bring Guthrie's words to life. Wilco's presence adds a musicality and pop sensibility that really brightens the overall feel of the album as well. The songs are equal parts joyous and contemplative, funny even at times. They're warm and laid back, and clearly everyone is having a blast. A surprise Natalie Merchant appearance is icing on the cake. What a delight to hear. What. A Delight. Fave Songs (All songs, from most to least favorite): California Stars, Walt Whitman's Niece, Another Man's Done Gone, Birds and Ships, Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key, The Unwelcome Guest, Eisler on the Go, Hesitating Beauty, One by One, At My Window Sad and Lonely, I Guess I Planted, Ingrid Bergman, She Came Along to Me, Christ for President, Hoodoo Voodoo
Love this - didn’t realise how much I did until re listening to it - warm fuzzy lovin it
Just plain slaps. Hits all my buttons
This was fantastic
Great shit. If I wasn't a day behind I'd listen to it again right now. Loved this album.
I love this. It vacillates so nicely between Bragg's sweet and folksy approach to Wilco's moody atmospheric style. Billy Bragg and Wilco really seem to understand Woody Guthrie and what's at the heart of his songwriting. They've interpreted his lyrics beautifully here for a newer audience. I feel like part of something special listening to it. And I love love LOVE this album cover! I love looking at it, it reminds me of all the times I spent walking around my city, wandering, finding cool hidden gems all by myself. But I won't say which ones! If you could bottle the feeling of walking through a city you love with no plans and nowhere to be, I'd pay anything for it. This album is close enough for now.
Incredible album. Cannot wait to revisit this one.
I love everything about this album. It makes me want to move to some remote place in the mountains and just chill with a guitar on a porch. Favourite tracks except for the obvious first track and California Stars are One by one and Eisler on the go. 5/5
- Never listened to this before even though I like Bragg and Wilco - Genius idea that works really well - California Stars stands out as the best track but consistently really good - Fav songs: California Stars, The Unwelcome Guest, Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key
This is an incredible album. It's like you can feel the bridge in time between Woody writing these lyrics and Billy Bragg and Wilco writing and performing the music. The songs are incredibly strong and cohesive. The lyrics are amazing, full of evocative scenes and witty double entendres, a fine testament to Woody Guthrie's genius. Classic. 5 stars.
I remember when looking at the Wikipedia for this book, I was surprised at how Woody Guthrie didn't have an album on here (he does have music recorded, after all). If this is as close as it'll get, I don't mind. I previously got "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" on here and discovered I really enjoyed it, but I'm not as familiar with Billy Bragg. I think the idea is great and it's executed well. Despite the fact that Guthrie has been dead nearly 100 years, he can still connect. Even being... let's say agnostic, I enjoyed the pro-Jesus anti-politician "Christ For President". My, how times have changed, eh? Favorite tracks: "Way Over Yonder In a Minor Key", "At My Window Sad and Lonely", "I Guess I Planted", "Christ For President"
Wasn't sure what I'd make of this as I've always found Billy Bragg hit and miss, and I've never latched onto Wilco either. Woody Guthrie, obviously, is a legend for good reason, so I was very intrigued. It well and truly won me over, a really warm and engaging, and unique record. I love a musical project that brings artists together across decades, and borne out of love. Wonderful stuff. There's at least 2 other volumes of this which I will have to check out.
I own this, I love it. There's almost no downtime in here for me - this is all great. Everything good about these musicians is on this record. Love it.
Love this album. Listened to it for the first time about 3 months ago. My sister in law was telling us about Ingrid Bergman song. So I looked it up. Really love the melodies, instrumentation and the over all sound. Gonna rate this one high.
Lost songs brought back to happy life.
I was surprised by how much I liked this. I didn't previously engage with Bragg or wilco or woody Guthrie. Yet I found myself tapping my toe to most of these songs and enjoying the lyricism.
What a fun album! Wilco is very hit or miss for me (I think they're great, I just don't always enjoy their stuff), but this was fantastic. I'm not terribly familiar with Woody Guthrie's work, but judging from this, I'd say he's a great songwriter. I really loved the vocals and instrumentation on this album, and "Walt Whitman's Niece" was the perfect opening track.
The concept for this album was interesting and the execution was fantastic. I heard that tensions ran high between Billy Bragg and Wilco while making this but they all must be happy with how it turned out. Some songs are somber and mournful, some are raucous and bawdy and then there is the glorious cacophony of Hoodoo Voodoo. These are songs that seem like they would be played at a hootenanny. One that I would be happy to attend. Natalie and Billy singing on Way Over yonder in the Minor Key is beautiful.
What a beautiful confluence of style and talent. I love Billy Bragg so my heart leant more into the songs he sang but it’s such a well-rounded album. This passed me by the time but I’m delighted that this BB and Wilco collaboration unearthed some gorgeous songs with those doleful, gut-wrenching Guthrie lyrics.
Liked it a lot
real pleasure to listen to
I love it, it even feels like time went by faster!
This album was an ambitious concept that was well executed. To take the scraps of someone else's unfinished work and to turn it into something that sounds simultaneously modern and classic is not an easy thing to do. The one critique might be that a lot of this just sounds like a Wilco album, but I liked the other Wilco album a lot. Maybe if I knew more Woody Guthrie songs I'd feel more qualified to judge the execution but I'll give it the benefit of the doubt in my score. Would do a 4.5 if possible.
This is a great concept. An unexpected pairing of artists that works incredibly well. The addition of Natalie Merchant's vocals makes it even better. Have loved this since it came out!
I love this album so much.
The bard of Barking on top form
It is great when a concept album works. And this one does. Lyrics from Woody Guthrie that did not have known music were given to Billy Bragg who brought along Wilco and set them to music. The result is an excellent record.
What can I say about this album? I love this album, I have listened to it countless times in my life, and it holds such a nostalgic sway over my opinion that it seems impossible for me to say that even objectively this album is beautiful and perfect. Very pleased to pull this today. Also listened to Volume 2 and 3 of these recordings as well, which I highly recommend.
Big Wilco fan. This album was a great listen. Will definitely give a spin again in the future. Christ for President was my favorite and Hesitating Beauty was a great one too. Woody Guthrie could write great ones.
Bragg and Wilco put some old Woody Guthrie lyrics to music, and it mostly works. They stayed true to his aesthetic while making it their own, which is how you have to approach a project like this, I think. The issue I keep coming back to is that for all three major players, this isn't their best work. It's really good, but it doesn't particularly stand out. Best track: Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key
Awesome. And it had my new funeral song.
The first song made me doubt I'd like this album, but it turned out to be a red herring. The album is really good, mixing a country-rock and folk style. Lots of different singers as well. And they lyrics are worth a listen by themselves.
Has some cool songs
For years I've enjoyed the song "California Stars" without listening to this album or looking into its background. What a great listen this turned out to be though. I love this style of folky rock from the late 90s/early 00s. It's a bit long but I can't fault it too much for that.
I liked it. Fun rock with lots of folk undertones. Story telling lyrics. There was just something about it that I didn't need to add almost any songs to playlists. Not that its bad, just less my cup of tea.
Pretty good album, lots of great acoustic parts, love the song with Natalie Merchant. Some good tracks would like to listen again High 3.5
Nice album. I met Billy Bragg at a record shop in Austin, lovely man - hated Thatcher
Fav Song: California Stars
Osittain tuttuja biisejä johtuen projektin Wilco-yhteyksistä. Levy kokonaisuudessaan on kuitenkin jäänyt kuuntelematta aiemmin. Tykkäsin rennon letkeästä countrymeiningistä hyvin Wilcomaisella musisoinnilla varutettuna. Jatkoon ja uudelleenkuunteluun.
this is the second day in a row i got wilco and i am riding this high. i really only liked the songs with jeff tweedy singing but this album was a great combo of the two - neither lost their voice but actually complemented each other.
this was a brilliant album! beautiful lyrics, the composition of the songs, and variety was just gorgeous. the track "Birds and Ships" had Natalie Merchant singing, probably my favorite track on the album, but "One by One" is definitely a close second. all-in-all, this was a joy to listen to.
Was shocked over how much I liked this one.
Really enjoyed this. Great working music - think I listened about 4 times whilst I worked late. Not sure how to analyse the music but it was certainly enjoyable
Bon folk rock un peu country. Le melange des deux chnateurs est tres bon et l’ecriture des chanson fit tres bien avec le style.4*
Really nice. Eclectic. Love "Birds and Ships", "One By One", "Way over Yonder in the Minor Key" and "Ingrid Bergman"
Este álbum me sonó muy a Estados Unidos (?), tradición gringa, música como muy cinematográfica a veces. Siento que funciona bien en roadtrip o incluso como viaje introspectiva al USA profundo. Con todo, pues estuvo bueno escucharlo en su mayoría y hay algunas letras muy efectivas. Las canciones que realmente me gustaron fueron: "California Stars", "Hoodoo Voodoo" y las tristes "At My Window Sad and Lonely" y "One by One". 7.5/10
I don't know how but I accidentally listened to this album in reverse order
Me gustó la verdad, tiene una melancolía y una solemnidad gringa que sí pone medio sad. Me gustó más Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key, suena tristalegre. En general el disco da la vibra de un roadtrip introspectivo como en película indie :V Mood: Wow, esto no es la calle de las sirenas.