Once again, it's a sort of apprenticeship with Woody Guthrie that's drawn Billy Bragg into a new realm. Thirty years since his debut, the seven-song Life's a Riot with Spy Vs Spy, Bragg is back with a new album, Tooth & Nail, out this week on Cooking Vinyl. Bragg calls the album an extension of the Mermaid Avenue project that paired him with Wilco to write and record music for song lyrics pulled from the vast archive Guthrie left behind. "I do feel that this record has some connection with Mermaid Avenue and the songs I recorded with Wilco," says Bragg, taking a phone call in his Austin hotel room while relaxing before SXSW performances and a tour that will bring him to Phoenix for the first time. "Woody Guthrie opened up a new door for me that I had never really been through. This record explores that roots music past what Mermaid Avenue also explored." Bragg recorded Tooth & Nail at producer Joe Henry's California studio, making good on a long-sought collaboration and a friendly dare. "In 2011, I was thinking about how to approach this, and I thought I should give him a ring and take him up on his dare that [someone] could make a record in five days. I wasn't convinced of that," Bragg says. "I booked the dates and I put the money down and I came away with an amazing record. To come away with a great-sounding album; that really, to me, was beyond my dreams. He proved himself right, Joe did."
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