Artist: Billy Bragg
Album: “Tooth & Nail”
When he graces the State Theatre stage Oct. 2, longtime fans of the iconic English singer-songwriter-activist Billy Bragg might be surprised at his latest effort to effect change — in himself.
Bragg, a longtime chiseling voice of grassroots, leftist movements and the decades-long thorn in the side of British politicians, changes tactics on his latest album, “Tooth & Nail,” affixing on his other love: love.
Recorded live in five days without overdubs and with help from a medley of session players (who’ve worked with Bon Iver, Lana del Rey and Regina Spektor), slide guitar and piano, the album achieves a human touch that lacks in so many overproduced recordings. Haunting rocker and Grammy Award-winning producer Joe Henry, who’s worked with Loudon Wainwright III and Elvis Costello, helps to craft a more intimate tone that stands out against Bragg’s prior work.
The Woody Guthrie base is still here. There are plenty of protest songs, including Guthrie cover “Ain’t Got No Home.” But there are intimate, heartwarming tunes like “Goodbye, Goodbye” and “Handyman Blues.” It’s a smattering of Pete Seeger with the country tones and topics of John Prine.
“Most people, when they hear my name, think of polemical anthems born in struggle,” Bragg said in a news release. “I often find myself having to remind people that I am also the Sherpa of Heartbreak, writing songs about the struggle to maintain our relationships with those we love the most.”
But, in a tour that spans the U.S. and much of Europe, Bragg’s views of the American political system help him return to his roots on stage.
Take this from his wry banter from the March show at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles: “This machine that you sent to Mars has discovered some dust. How incredible is that? ... Just as an outsider, passing through your country, you know, a friendly piece of advice, Mars is very exciting ... but universal health care is actually more important.”
On the tour, Bragg injects himself into debates with ease. With more than three decades into the fray, it comes naturally to him. He’s comfortable being a voice of change and dissent and now turns the spotlight on himself.
“In 2011, I took a long, hard look at who I am and what I do. This album is the result,” Bragg said in a news release.
Opening act Joe Purdy might be someone you’ve never heard of, but he’s not someone you’ve never heard.
The singer-songwriter’s work has been featured in TV shows “Lost” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” the latter finding its way to the season-one soundtrack, which sold 150,000 copies. Probably his best known hit, “Can’t Get it Right Today,” was featured in a Kia car commercial.
And local craft-beer lovers: Come thirsty. The State Theatre will feature the proletarian line of beers from Elk Creek Cafe & Aleworks brewed exclusively for the show.