Lefty troubadour Billy Bragg looks “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back” in a three-night Chicago stand | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Lefty troubadour Billy Bragg looks “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back” in a three-night Chicago stand 

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click to enlarge Billy Bragg

Billy Bragg

Jacob Blickenstaff

With his instantly recognizable voice—stark, blustery, and heartfelt—Billy Bragg has always had a no-frills musical style. His innovativeness manifests mostly in his career path. Also a historian and lefty activist, for the past two decades Bragg has often worn all of his hats at once, whether re-creating unfinished Woody Guthrie songs in collaboration with Wilco, Natalie Merchant, and Guthrie’s daughter Nora; writing new lyrics for Beethoven’s Ode to Joy; mastering the Spotify playlist format as a sort of front porch; or collaborating with Joe Henry on an album of old-time railroad songs (recorded at train stations during a cross-country journey). Always surprising, never gimmicky, Bragg has also been an outspoken anti-Brexit campaigner and the author of nonfiction books such as The Progressive Patriot and Roots, Radicals and Rockers. (The latter, about the history and influence of skiffle, was adapted into a BBC documentary.) For his 2019 tour, titled “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back," he’s playing three-night stands in select cities. The first night is Bragg’s current set, spanning his career from the beginning through 2017’s Bridges Not Walls. The second set, focusing on the early years, draws from Bragg’s raw, punk-inflected first three albums, and the third set includes songs from his pop-tinged late-80s and early-90s albums Workers Playtime, Don’t Try This at Home, and William Bloke.   v

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