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Billy Bragg – ‘Mr. Love & Justice’ Review

I was talking earlier about musicians remaining relevant. The Bard of Barking should be the case study for anyone wanting to do so. With his first album in six years, Bragg sets his manifesto out in the title; those are the two themes he has been returning to for almost thirty years. And he’s still as passionate about both after all these years.

Opener ‘I Keep Faith’ is a lovely little Celtic Country-Soul number which could as easily be about his missus or his politics. ‘I Almost Killed You’ is a cracking little folk number showcasing all of his wit, warmth and humour. ‘M for Me’ will resonate with anyone who has ever been in a relationship. Bragg has never written about the stars aligning in his love songs; he’s far too practical, always capturing the mundanity of relationships in a world where we are daily projected unrealistic images of what ‘love’ actually is. Oddly, his songs remain all the more touching for it, and I defy anyone in a long-term relationship not to smile hearing it.

The more political songs come later. ‘The Johnny Carcinogenic Show’ is an anti-tobacco song, while ‘O Freedom’ wonders about the outcome of removing liberties to ‘protect’ freedom. His tone is never preachy, more like a sensible cajoling narrator.

This is a relaxed album from a man comfortable about his place in the world while remaining distinctly uncomfortable about what that world is becoming. His voice is softer than his more strident early work these days, but still unmistakeably him. Ably backed by the Blokes, he delivers an album full of Hammond organ, brass and acoustic guitars. For those who prefer the man with just his guitar, the limited edition comes with another disc of just that; all 12 songs done by Bragg solo.

The man is a national treasure; long may his conscience trouble us.

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