"The second volume of that strange collaboration - Wilco, Billy Bragg, and the long-departed Woody Guthrie - is certainly a good album. Had this collection been Volume I, I probably would have raved about them, and marvelled that such an odd project could have been so successful. I would have doubtless mentioned Feed of Man, Hot Rod Hotel, and Meanest Man as exceptional songs. And I probably would have asked (as I did when I heard the actual Volume I) how a singer as talented as Natalie Merchant could do such a poor job on her token track.But of course, these songs are Volume II. And one can tell. The best material really was picked up for Volume. There is no Walt Whitman's Niece, no California Stars, and certainly no Unwelcome Guest on this record. And so in summary, those who adored Volume I will certainly find their money's worth on Volume. But unlike that first volume, I cannot say that this is an essential record. If one were to buy only one, the first volume is a clear choice.Or think of it this way. Composed of songs that didn't make the first cut, Bruce Springsteen's Tracks and Bob Dylan's Bootleg Series are both wonderful records for true fans. But if I were just starting out with either artist, they certainly would not be the first records to go and buy. The same holds for Mermaid Avenue II."
Gianmarco Manzione | Tampa, FL USA | 06/01/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Mermaid Avenue Vol. II is patchier but no less enjoyable than its predecessor. Tweedy's claim that the album is "less folky" is fairly accurate, as most of the album's highpoints are more rooted in Rock 'N Roll than folk, such as "Airline To heaven" with its tantalizing drum rhythms and chorus, the rollicking and downright fun "Feed of Man" with its joyous guitar licks, or "Blood of the Lamb," an eerie mix of thumping drums and bells that would not sound out of place on Bob Dylan's recent "Time Out of Mind." These sounds do not appear on vol. I, Tweedy is correct, and the result is stunningly good. The diversity of this album is even more startling than on Mermaid Avenue I. Not only does every song sound different from previous tracks, each song belongs to a different genre. Beyond the album's Rock tunes are some delightfully dirty blues tracks like "All You Fascists" and "Meanest man," which would fit perfectly on the next Tom Waits record. Bragg even touches on some jazzy drum shuffling and vocals on the very slick "Stetson Kennedy." However, Wilco & Billy Bragg do not entirely ignore the folk roots that pervaded vol. I; "I was Born" is straight from the vein of vol. I's "Ingrid Bergman," and most will recognize "Eisler on the Go" lurking beneath the surface of the gorgeous acoustic ballad, "Black Wind Blowing." Yes, this album does stretch the listener's attention span a bit more, the music is indeed more challenging, but delicately so. It is difficult to imagine that this talented group could deliver an album of as much meat as vol. I, but they have, proving that the union of Wilco and Billy Bragg just might be one of the most outstanding musical projects in modern rock history. But let's not forget that these Mermaid Avenue albums are only made possible by the brilliant songwriting legacy of one named Woody Guthrie."
Woody Would Be Proud!
Voice of Chunk | NY | 06/01/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For those of you who had doubts as to whether Billy and Wilco could match the greatness of "Mermaid Avenue 1," you can put those doubts aside. Wilco puts in a series of stellar performances, from the Dylan-tinged opener "Airline to Heaven" to the Petty-ish "Secret of the Sea," to "Blood of the Lamb" which could have been penned and produced by Tom Waits. Billy Bragg, likewise, contributes consistently top-notch performances throughout the album, the highlights being "Black Wind Blowing" (which echoes "Eisler on the Go" from "Mermaid Avenue 1"), the train chugging "My Flying Saucer" and "Stetson Kennedy." Sure, Bragg favors the political and Wilco focuses on the romantic, but that should be no surprise to fans of either or both. In fact, that's the beauty of this album: There's a balance of ideas and sentiments, but an avoidance of didacticism and sentimentality. And it's all cemented together with loose, folky, rocking grooves. If you liked the first collection, you'll like this. If you're unfamiliar with "Mermaid Avenue," go buy it after you buy this one. You won't be disappointed."
I stumbled upon a gem...
Marc A. Healy | Elgin, IL United States | 07/06/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I was born and bred on rock and roll, but lately I've been more interested in jazz, world music and classical. I'm not really enthusiastic about folk music, but I listen to it from time to time. When I pulled this album from the bin at the library, it was because I had heard some Billy Bragg before and thought it was interesting. I knew nothing of Jeff Tweedy and Wilco. This disk blew me away- ecclectic, original, different yet familiar, I think every track is a winner, even though I like some better than others. Certainly if you are sick of listening to the same old stuff, this is a great mixture of rock, blues, bluegrass, folk, and musical styles that should just be filed under "other." I enjoyed this sequqal much more than the first "Mermaid Avenue" disk- but judging from the other reviews this is an issue of personal taste. Then again, isn't music like that to begin with? I appreciate Woody Guthrie a whole lot more now, and I think it's tremendous what modern independant musicians have done with material from a previous generation. Definately check this disk out- I think it belongs in any serious music lover's collection."
unionlarry | Farmington, CT United States | 06/16/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Sequels are a dangerous and difficult undertaking, but Billy Bragg and Wilco have once again done justice to Woody Guthrie's grand, beneficent vision and in so doing, have reinvigorated today's dismal pop music scene with "Mermaid Avenue, Volume II.""Mermaid II," of course, is Wilco's and Bragg's latest sojourn to daughter Nora Guthrie's vault, wherein contained are thousands of lyrics Woody had yet to set to music before Huntington's Disease sapped his strength and took his life. As with Mermaid I, the Wilco-Bragg collaboration is as much a product of their singular talents as it is a reinterpretation of our millennial heartaches and hopes through the prism of Guthrie's poetic, populist eye. It's been said before, but it must be said again: no one is better suited to the task of making the Guthrie archives a living, breathing document than Wilco, who have practically invented a new American pop vernacular, and Bragg, the English folk-rocker who's wedded acoustic and electric beauty with unapologetically pro-worker lyrics. While Guthrie's political, economic and moral sensibilities are fairly well chronicled, some of Volume II's most revelatory moments come from the intensely personal and spiritual side of the American folk legend. That's why Wilco lead man Jeff Tweedy, with his heartbreaking rasp of a voice and No Depression birth papers, is perfectly poised to reinterpret and refashion what Guthrie put down on paper.Tweedy, Wilco and Bragg get Volume II off to a rollicking start with "Airline to Heaven," an inspirational hoedown that could have given Samuel Beckett reason to believe, with slide guitars, shakers, saws and handclaps lifting us into the clouds, gazing down on those grounded by hypocrisy and materialism. Wilco and Bragg sustain that emotional intensity throughout Volume II, gliding remarkably from ballad to blues to nursery rhyme to hoedown. Check out the startling admonition of "Feed of Man," in which Guthrie/Tweedy implore us "to help in the feeding and the seed of man/And not in the bleeding and the end of man." Or the hushed beauty of recollected love in "Remember the Mountain Bed." Or the silly but inexplicably sensible "I Was Born," sung without mawkishness by Natalie Merchant. And if you want unalloyed, radio-friendly pop, try "Secrets of the Sea," another love song that enables Tweedy to reach back and capture the hooks that graced "California Stars" in Mermaid I. While Volume II is by means an overt political statement, it flies gracefully as social commentary when needed. Bragg brings punkish intensity (not to mention "my union gun") to "All You Fascists," which follows on the heels of the buoyant "Against th' Law," in which New Orleans blues singer Corey Harris moans "I'm a low pay daddy singing th' high price blues" against a backdrop that includes Tweedy's mandolin and the marvelous Jay Bennet's banjo. Bragg's most poignant turn comes with "Hot Rod Hotel," the story of a hotel porter and night clerk who votes with his feet when it comes time to choose between dignity and a lousy buck. "Hotrod Hotel" may be the most explicit embrace of why workers need to band together without even having to use the word "union," and its subtle power owes to Guthrie's gritty storytelling and Bragg/Wilco's faithful idea of how he'd want the music to sound. It's almost pointless to compare the two volumes of Mermaid Avenues. Both are abundantly blessed with heartbreaking beauty, sly humor, goofy playfulness, apocalyptic visions and defiant flips of the middle finger at an America as economically and socially stratified in Y2K as it was when Guthrie first found dignity blowing alongside despair in the Dust Bowl. The only thing more to say about Volume II is this: When, if not in God's name then Woody Guthrie's, will Billy Bragg and Wilco bring us Volume III?"