Birds and Ships (1998) – Billy Bragg and Wilco (feat. Natalie Merchant)

This is the first song to feature here from Billy Bragg and Wilco’s wonderful tribute album to Woody Guthrie called Mermaid Avenue (see image above). I played this album so often after it was released although I hadn’t heard much of Woody’s material up to that point. I had read his superb portrait of America’s Depression years – Bound For Glory, but I was largely unfamiliar with his music. I like how he was reminisced in Tod Haynes movie about Bob Dylan – I’m Not There.
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 birds are singing
In your eyes today
Sweet flowers blossom in your smile
The wind and sun
Are in the words you say
Where might your lonesome lover be?

Natalie Merchant who has featured here before sings Birds and Ships so tenderly. Although Natalie is from Buffalo in NY, her intonation seems to lend the song a folkloric-Celtic sound. It’s just a beautiful song.

This project was organized by Guthrie’s daughter, Nora Guthrie, original director of the Woody Guthrie Foundation and archives. The project was 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. He had left behind over a thousand sets of complete lyrics written between 1939 and 1967; as they had not been recorded by Guthrie, and he did not write music, none of these lyrics had any music other than a vague stylistic notation. Nora Guthrie’s liner notes in Mermaid Avenue indicate that it was her intention that the songs be given to a new generation of musicians who would be able to make the songs relevant to a younger generation.

Stay tuned because more songs will be presented here from Mermaid Avenue as well as information pertaining to the record.

Reference:
1. Mermaid Avenue – Wikipedia

“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.”- Michel Legrand

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Posted in Music

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