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'Tooth & Nail' drives home the real Billy Bragg

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Entertainment,Music,Nancy Dunham

Billy Bragg is still a man of passionate beliefs.

The latest release by the much-lauded British troubadour, who is often thought of as a successor to Woody Guthrie, prompted some fans to fret that his political and social fires had been extinguished. Not so, said Bragg, though he added they don't dictate his entire life.

"In some ways, my defining songs were written in opposition to [Margaret Thatcher's government], so many people think that I'm just a loony lefty and everything is dictated by [the philosophy of] Karl Marx. It painted me into a corner," he said. "There are a lot of other things that mean a lot to me personally."

"Tooth & Nail," his latest album, shows the more nuanced side of Bragg on tracks such as "Handyman Blues," about his resignation that he'll never be the handyman in the form of those of a different generation. Other songs, such as "Swallow My Pain" and "Do Unto Others," are Bragg's commentary on universal feelings of heartbreak and humanity.

Onstage
Billy Bragg
» Where: Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria
» When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
» Info: $49.50; 703-549-7500; birchmere.com

Bragg admitted that in the age of television reality shows such as "The X Factor" and "American Idol," he struggled with disillusionment and wondered if there was still a place in music for him. A Twitter message by a fan -- that read something along the lines of "Getting over break-up by listening to @billybragg, the Sherpa of Heartbreak" -- gave him a dose of enthusiasm.

"Most people, when they hear my name, think of polemic anthems born in struggle," he said. "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."

Working with longtime friend Joe Henry, Bragg recorded "Tooth & Nail" in five days with no overdubs.

"[Joe encouraged] me to perform each song as if it were definitive. As a result, the album is 'live' -- we didn't do any vocal retakes or overdubs, which is a first for me," said Bragg reflectively, noting that the way the album was recorded sums up his own reflections of his life. "In 2011, I took a long, hard look at who I am and what I do. This album is the result."

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