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Billy Bragg 

Mr. Love & Justice (Anti-)

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No matter what he does, Billy Bragg will always be seen as an activist-musician — emphasis on the first half of that equation. This ignores the fact that the guy to whom he's most often compared, Woody Guthrie, wrote plenty of songs — some of which Bragg brought to life with Wilco on a pair of acclaimed CDs — about life and love and even flying saucers. It's a point worth recalling as Bragg releases his first album in six years — one that finds its primary inspiration in home and hearth. Bragg's penchant for the personal has been a staple of his repertoire since he surfaced in the early '80s as an angry young man, armed with only an electric guitar. These heart songs are preferable to Mr. Love & Justice's political ruminations, which range from the labored (the anti-war "Sing Their Souls Back Home") to the ill-advised ("The Johnny Carcinogenic Show," an anti-tobacco indictment that might cause you to take up smoking in protest). With soulful Americana backing his cockney bark, songs like "I Almost Killed You" and "M for Me" reveal that Bragg's gift for clever wordplay and catchy tunes is as potent as ever.

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