Mr. Love & Justice (Anti-)
ESSENTIAL "Something Happened"
Midway through Billy Bragg's first record in six years, the short but stunning "Something Happened" poses two questions: "D'ya know what love is?" Bragg sings after a lovely plucked electric guitar motif morphs into a soaring, fuzzy rock jam. Then he asks more sadly, "D'ya know what lust is?" To the first he replies, "Love is when you willingly place someone else's priorities above your own." Before a bristling harmonica-led coda, he answers the second, "Lust is when you actively force your own priorities on someone else." The 50-year-old English troubadour is known for wearing his altruism on his sleeve. Hence, the album's self-mocking but proudly born title. Backed by his band, the Blokes (a deluxe album version includes an extra CD of Bragg performing the album solo in the studio), Bragg colors his brilliant Cockney-accented discourse with Appalachian folk on the Woody Guthrie-influenced "O Freedom," where he protests, "Freedom, what liberties are taken in thy name?" On "I Keep Faith," which features Soft Machine legend Robert Wyatt, he taps classic soul.