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Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions

Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions cover art
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News & Reviews

  • All Three "Mermaid Avenue" Volumes Now on Vinyl

    On the acclaimed Mermaid Avenue albums, Billy Bragg and Wilco put music to lyrics by folk legend Woody Guthrie for which he had not written music or made recordings. Nonesuch Records has now reissued the first two volumes on vinyl and release, for the first time on vinyl, a third volume comprising 17 previously unreleased recordings made during the original sessions, which was first released in the 2012 three-CD-plus-DVD set Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions. Each volume is pressed on 2-LP, 180-gram vinyl at Pallas MFG in Diepholz, Germany. 

  • Nonesuch Records to Release Three "Mermaid Avenue" Volumes on Vinyl for Black Friday, November 29

    On the acclaimed Mermaid Avenue albums, Billy Bragg and Wilco put music to lyrics by folk legend Woody Guthrie for which he had not written music or made recordings. On Black Friday, November 29, 2013, Nonesuch Records will reissue the first two volumes on vinyl and release, for the first time on vinyl, a third volume comprising 17 previously unreleased recordings made during the original sessions, which was first released in the 2012 three-CD-plus-DVD set Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions. Each volume is pressed on 2-LP, 180-gram vinyl at Pallas MFG in Diepholz, Germany. The albums are available to pre-order in the Nonesuch Store.

About this Album

Click HERE to read a note (PDF) about Mermaid Avenue by Washington Post contributor Geoffrey Himes to mark the release of Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions



When American folk legend Woody Guthrie died in 1967, at the age of 55, among his stored belongings were thousands of complete song lyrics for which he had not written out music or made recordings. Many of them had been written in the 1940s and ’50s, in the Guthrie family home on Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island, Brooklyn. The lyrics remained in boxes for decades, but once his daughter Nora found them in the 1990s, she knew they had to be shared. She approached English singer-songwriter and activist Billy Bragg to select some to set to music. The Chicago rock band Wilco came aboard soon after, with Jeff Tweedy writing music—along with his late bandmate Jay Bennett on some songs—and the band recording with both Tweedy and Bragg on vocals. Natalie Merchant joined the group to sing a duet with Bragg and two solo songs, and guitarist/singer Corey Harris, who wrote two songs and co-wrote one, performed on many tracks. In 1998, the first batch of songs was released to critical acclaim as Mermaid Avenue, receiving a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Folk Album. Mermaid Avenue Vol. II followed in 2000.

On Record Store Day, April 21, 2012, Nonesuch releases Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions, which includes: Mermaid Avenue; Mermaid Avenue Vol. II (re-mastered); Mermaid Avenue Vol. III, comprising 17 previously unreleased recordings made during the Mermaid Avenue sessions; director Kim Hopkins’ 1999 film Man in the Sand, which documents those sessions; and a 48-page booklet with new liner notes by Nora Guthrie, full lyrics, archival photographs, and facsimiles of lyric sheets and sketches by Woody Guthrie.

In her liner note, Nora Guthrie describes her response to finding these lyrics, which were much more personal and journal-esque than the earlier works for which Woody was best known: “I had just discovered that my father had written more song lyrics than any of us could ever imagine. (Over 3,000 when I finally did the count.) I had just discovered that he had a bad crush on Ingrid Bergman and dreamed of getting her pregnant, that he felt sorry for Hans Eisler, that he was a proud lush and a comfortable luster, that he believed in flying saucers, that he was homesick for California, that he even knew who Joe DiMaggio was let alone wrote a song about him, or that he once made out with a girl in a tree hollow when, as a kid, he bragged, ‘There ain’t nobody that can sing like me.’”

The New York Times said of the first volume, “[Tweedy and Bragg] are the perfect pair to conclude that Guthrie, far from a predictable Popular Front totem, was a prophetic rock-and-roller with a whole lot to say. All he needed was a band and a little freedom…It says a great deal for [Bragg] that he recognized that his leftism only half-equipped him to bring it off. Woody Guthrie was as American as it gets, and [Chicago–based] Wilco provided that element as few other contemporaries could have. Wilco’s signature, a spacious stylistic sweep from blues to bluegrass, brings all this music to a life no…Brits or Nashville pros could have approached.”

Bragg told NPR in 1998, “The words are so powerful, they’re so evocative to many people…That’s the strength of Woody, it’s the simplicity.” Tweedy added, “I’d have a really good feeling about things if [the album] did lead a certain number of people back to discover Woody Guthrie.”

Credits

MUSICIANS

Mermaid Avenue

Jay Bennett, piano (1, 2, 9-13), clavinet (1, 9), Farfisa organ (1), drums (1), backing vocal (2, 7, 10, 13), Hammond B3 (3, 7, 10), bouzouki (3), organ (5, 11), Farfisa bass pedals (5), electric bass (6), slide guitar (6), acoustic guitar (6), harmony vocal (6), dulcimer (7), banjo (9), handclaps (10), melodica (12, 15), percussion (12), electric guitar (13), grand piano (14, 15)
Billy Bragg, acoustic guitar (1-4, 8, 10, 15), lead vocal (1, 3, 6, 10, 15), electric guitar (5, 13), bouzouki (7), backing vocal (7, 10), vocal (8, 12), National guitar (9, 12), handclaps (10), banjo (12)
Ken Coomer, drums (1-3, 5-7, 9-11, 13, 15), percussion (1-3, 6, 9), backing vocal (10), handclaps (10)
John Stirratt, acoustic bass (1, 9), electric bass (2, 3, 5, 7, 10, 11, 13, 15), backing vocal (2, 7), piano [bass] (5), Hammond B3 (6), acoustic guitar (6), bass pedals (9), backing vocal (10), handclaps (10)
Jeff Tweedy, electric guitar (1, 10), harmonica (1, 6, 15), acoustic guitar (2, 6, 7, 9, 11, 15), lead vocal (2, 7, 13), vocal (5, 9, 11, 14), backing vocal (10), handclaps (10), harmony vocal (15)
Wilco, answering vocals (1)
Jonathan “JP” Parker, answering vocals (1)
Eliza Carthy, violin (2, 3)
Corey Harris, lap steel guitar (2), electric guitar (5), backing vocal (10), handclaps (10)
Natalie Merchant, backing vocal (3), vocal (4)
Elizabeth Steen, accordion (3)
Peter Yanowitz, chorus drums (3)
Bob Egan, slide guitar (6), pedal steel (11, 15)

Words by Woody Guthrie. Music by Billy Bragg (1, 3, 4, 8, 10, 12, 14, 15); Jay Bennett / Jeff Tweedy (2); Wilco / Billy Bragg / Corey Harris (5); Billy Bragg / Jeff Tweedy / Jay Bennett (6); Jeff Tweedy (7, 11, 13); Jeff Tweedy / Jay Bennett (9)

Mermaid Avenue Vol. II

Jay Bennett, 12-string acoustic slide guitars (1), shakers (1), saw (1), claps (1), backing vocal (1, 6, 8, 9, 12), electric guitar (2, 4), baritone guitar (2, 6), 12-string acoustic guitar (2), Hammond B3 (3, 9, 13), Leslie guitar (3), Farfisa organ (4, 9), mandolin (4), pianos (6), acoustic guitars (6), organ (6, 8), tambourine (6), slide guitars (6, 11), electric sitars (6), electric guitar [solo] (7), nylon-string guitar (8), Leslie piano (9), banjo (10, 12), harmonica (11), acoustic guitar [solos] (12), drums (15), upright bass (15), Delayaphone (15), bells (15)
John Stirratt, claps (1), backing vocal (1, 6, 8, 12), bass (3, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11), electric bass (4, 13), upright bass (9, 12), baritone guitar (13)
Jeff Tweedy, acoustic guitar (1, 3, 4, 8, 9, 12, 15), Mellotrons (1), claps (1), vocal (1, 3, 6, 8, 9, 15), electric guitar (3, 11, 13), 12-string acoustic guitar (6), slide baritone guitar (9), mandolin (10), lead vocal (12), Wurlitzer (15)
Billy Bragg, acoustic guitar (2, 4, 5, 7, 9), vocal (2, 4, 7, 11, 13), resonator guitar (3, 13, 14), electric guitar (10, 11)
Ken Coomer, tape box (2), tambourine (2), drums (3, 4, 6-11, 13), percussion (12), backing vocal (12), holler (12), gas heater (13), kick drum (13)
Natalie Merchant, vocal (5)
Leroy Bach, piano (8)
Bog Egan, resonator slide guitar (10)
Corey Harris, acoustic guitar (10), vocal (10)
Eliza Carthy, violin (12)
Ben Ivitsky, mandolin (12)

Words by Woody Guthrie. Music by Jay Bennett / Jeff Tweedy (1, 6, 9); Billy Bragg (2, 4, 5, 7, 10-14); Jeff Tweedy (3, 15); Jeff Tweedy / Jay Bennett (8)

Mermaid Avenue Vol. III

Billy Bragg, resonator guitar (1, 10), vocal (1, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 13, 14, 17), guitar (2, 4), electric guitar (5, 11, 14, 17), tenor banjo (7, 13), acoustic guitar (9), keyboards (11), mandolin (15), backing vocal (16)
Jay Bennett, keyboards (2, 6, 11), banjo (4, 8, 17), melodica (4), backing vocal (4), mandolin (8, 17), harmonica (8), acoustic guitar (9), piano (11, 15), organ (14), Hammond B3 (15), Farfisa bass pedals (15), high-strung Epiphone guitar (17)
Ken Coomer, drums (2, 4, 6, 9, 11, 14, 15), percussion (8), tambourine (11), whistle (11), small drum drums (17)
Bob Egan, pedal steel guitar (2)
Corey Harris, lap steel (2, 11), acoustic guitar (3, 16), vocal (3, 16), guitar (15), electric guitar (17)
John Stirratt, bass (2, 4, 6, 9, 11, 14, 15, 17), bass guitar (12)
Jeff Tweedy, acoustic guitar (2, 3, 8, 9, 11, 12, 15, 17), vocal (2, 6, 8, 12, 15), guitar (6) , 12-string electric guitar (11), electric guitar (14), lead electric guitar (15)
Eliza Carthy, violin (4, 7, 13)
Ben Ivitsky, viola (5, 13)
Glenn Kotche, drums (12), percussion [Jim Scott's cash and garden tools] (12)
Mikael Jorgensen, Hammond B3 (12), Leslie cab (12)
Nels Cline, lap steel (12)
Patrick Sansone, harpsichord (12)
Leslie Feist, a garden tool (12)

Words by Woody Guthrie (1, 3-17), Will D. Cobb (2). Music by Billy Bragg (1, 4, 5, 7, 9-11, 13, 14, 17); Jeff Tweedy (2, 6, 8); Corey Harris (3, 16); Woody Guthrie (12); Jeff Tweedy / Jay Bennett (15)

PRODUCTION CREDITS
Produced by Wilco and Billy Bragg with Grant Showbiz except “The Jolly Banker”
Engineered by Jerry Boys
Recorded at:
Totally Wired Studios, Dublin / Assisted by Ivan O’Shea, Tom Skerrit, and Keith McDonnell
Windmill Lane, Dublin / Assisted by Gordon Jensen and Ciaràn Cahill
King Size Sound Laboratories, Chicago, IL / Engineered by Dave Trumfio and Mike Hagler
Fort Apache Studio, Boston, MA / Engineered by Matt Ellard and Scott Eisenberg

Mixed at Totally Wired Studios, Windmill Lane, King Size, and Private Studios (Champaign, IL)

Technical Assistance in Dublin and Chicago: Jonathan “JP” Parker

“The Jolly Banker” Produced by Wilco
Recorded and Mixed in 2009 by Jim Scott at The Loft, Chicago, IL
Additional Recording by Jason Tobias

Mastered by Robert C. Ludwig at Gateway Mastering Studios, Portland, ME

Design by Evan Gaffney
All original Woody Guthrie artwork, lyrics, and photographs courtesy of the Woody Guthrie Archives. © Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc.
Digital image reproduction and licensing by Tiffany Colannino / Woody Guthrie Archives
Woody Guthrie lyric transcriptions, licensing, and publishing by Anna Canoni / Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc.
Photographs by Ken Schles, Lester Balog, Woody Guthrie, and Peggy Plummer

Executive Producer: Nora Guthrie

Jay Bennett 1963–2009

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