Review: Billy Bragg delivers the news on ‘Bridges Not Walls’

November 6, 2017
This cover image released by Cooking Vinyl shows "Bridges Not Walls," a release by Billy Bragg. (Cooking Vinyl via AP)

Billy Bragg, “Bridges Not Walls” (Cooking Vinyl)

Billy Bragg is among the most romantic of protest singers but “Bridges Not Walls” is a newscast of dissent, not a love letter.

Comprising just six songs, the EP gathers Bragg singles released over the past few months, some issued practically as soon as they were written.

A pedal steel lends an Americana flavor on “King Tide and the Sunny Day Flood,” which warns, like Bob Dylan, that the waters around us have grown. But now the rising of the tides is real and best intentions, like dutiful recycling, are simply not enough.

An electric guitar powers Bragg’s cover of Anais Mitchell’s “Why We Build the Wall,” poking holes into some of the justifications for barriers.

A spirited rant against those in favor of leaving the European Union would have been cheered by many of his fans. Instead, Bragg offers a complex, nuanced look at a difficult question on closer “Full English Brexit.”

The tone of the piano ballad is mournful, not angry, and lists the usual pro-Brexit arguments — too many foreigners and too many EU rules to comply with.

The elderly protagonist sees his country changing and he’s apprehensive. He admits the immigrant children are “respectful, they gave me their seat on the bus” and though their food “smells disgusting” he insists he’s not a racist, he just wants “to make things how they used to be.” Telling his “dear neighbor” that “it’s not about you/this is all about us,” the end result is predictable — hence the song’s title.

Without needing to shout to get his points across, Bragg’s politics are not for everyone but the empathy of his approach goes well beyond mere ideologies.

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