He’s always been a bit of a softy, has our Bill. The wider populace’s default view of Bragg is that of a leftish firebrand with a noisy guitar and a neat line in soundbites but, throughout his 30-year career, he’s frequently shown his tender side, and Tooth & Nail is probably the most accurate and all-encompassing illustration of the great man’s worth.
This is a very personal album, recorded in five quick days almost a year ago, but held back until other dates in his diary – not least a series of events to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of his hero Woody Guthrie – had been given full attention. Sonically, it shares a palette with Mermaid Avenue, the two volumes of Guthrie lyrics he and Wilco added melodies to in the mid-90s, but very much with Bragg’s own charm and personality to the fore.
Love, friends and family dominate proceedings, from the mourning opener January Song to the comical DIY disasters of Handyman Blues (“I’m a writer, not a decorator”), and the cap-in-hand humble apology of Swallow My Pride to the hamstrung yearning of Your Name On My Tongue. There’s still room for insightful protest (No One Knows Nothing Anymore, There Will Be A Reckoning), but that’s just one component of a man whose drive, intelligence and optimism shines like a beacon, perfectly encapsulated in the reassuring closer Tomorrow’s Going To Be A Better Day.