Billy Bragg Tooth & Nail

Billy BraggTooth & Nail
When a fan on Twitter called Billy Bragg "the sherpa of heartbreak," the controversial-cum-contemplative songwriter took note and wrote a record steeped in matters of the heart. Tooth & Nail marks Bragg's 13th album — his first in five years — and is at times so unhurried one might suspect it was recorded at a meditation retreat (in fact it was finished in five days at producer Joe Henry's house). But the slowed-down, sorrowful songs on Tooth & Nail are no sign of softening. Bragg's viscous Essex accent was long ago swapped for a smoother, American-sounding singing voice, and while his style on Tooth & Nail doesn't revisit any old mannerisms, it is an album made of dejection. Lyrically, album opener "January Song" resigns itself to, rather than resists, issues of corporate greed, and grandmotherly metaphors like "if you go chasing rainbows you're bound to end up getting wet" crop up often enough to make the sensitivity profound. Those who've come to rely on Billy Bragg for anthems of activism will instead hear disillusioned lullabies, and more thoughtful listening is required to excavate the animosity. Tooth & Nail is mellow, but not un-edgy. A requisite cover of Woody Guthrie's "I Ain't Got No Home" makes a charming cameo, and album closer "Tomorrow's Going To Be a Better Day," sung "to the misanthropic misbegotten merchants of gloom," obeys Bragg's legacy of fighting for good. (Dine Alone)